I am a man, not a node

About ten years ago I could have an unbroken, intelligible conversation with someone on a phone line. Now, I simply cannot. I find I get dropouts and latency all over the place, and it irritates me.

Four cases in point:

  • This morning I tried to have a conversation with someone on my mobile phone. The signal was at full strength, and yet I kept getting drop-outs. We were communicating quite important information so kept having to repeat ourselves, to the extent that the conversation probably lasted twice as long as it should have. No wonder we see people wandering down the street, hand to ear, saying “Hunh…? Hunh…?”
  • My work phone is an IP phone. I hate it. I have to log on to it every morning – yes, log on to my phone, in fact I’ve set up a reminder to tell me to do it otherwise I forget and miss incoming calls – and every conference call I’ve had on it has demanded that I’m able to fill in the gaps, because I don’t want to keep having to tell clients to repeat themselves. Interviews over the phone are a nightmare. I’m like some Jurassic Park gene-splicing scientist inserting frog DNA into the parts of the conversational genome that I’m missing.
  • Furthermore, the IP phone has latency. There is nothing more off-putting than seeing a colleague’s mouth moving, then having the words come into your ear a fraction of a second later. To continue the film analogy, it’s like a very badly dubbed martial arts movie.
  • And finally, I used to work for a company that delivered a thin-client solution accessible by wireless. A client once called in asking why it kept flunking out every time he went through a tunnel on the train. Of course, us people in the know can snigger behind our hands at the folly of someone who doesn’t understand that wireless doesn’t work in those conditions. But I remember a time when FM didn’t exist, and you would lose your radio signal every time you went under a motorway bridge. FM fixed that. Why didn’t wireless? It’s a reasonable assumption to make.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t suddenly gone all Luddite. I still find it incredible that I can read Google Reader on my mobile phone. And I know mobile is a potential life saver, and that some countries are finding wireless as a way into broadband, particularly Africa and earthquake-prone countries such as Turkey who just find burying cables logistically impracticable.

But, quite apart from the ergonomical challenges of a tiny handset and tiny display (iPhone included), I think mobile communication still sucks. I yearn to have a nice, linear conversation rather than one that includes so many iterations and ack-backs. I want to talk, not be a semantic layer above a network.

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One thought on “I am a man, not a node

  1. Neat post Brendan. The things that winds me up is that there’s now 4 or 5 mobile networks in the UK and yet there are still areas of the country where its impossible to get a signal on any network such as Northumberland, Yorkshire, Scotland and Cornwall. Maybe its a good thing – there are still places to hide.

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