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No calls please

August 11th, 2010

We’re moving, in other words, toward a fascinating cultural transition: the death of the telephone call. This shift is particularly stark among the young. Some college students I know go days without talking into their smartphones at all.

Clive Thompson, in The Death of the Phone Call [wired.com], from Wired August 2010 [wired.com].

Yep, that would be me. I loath the phone, always have. The only times I have ever gotten into calling someone is the infatuation stage of new relationships (which were few and far between for me, and think you very much I’m married now,) during which I fell asleep way to many times with the phone off the hook, thankfully this was mostly before cell phones or after I moved to a place which had unlimited calling plans, otherwise I’d still be paying off that debt along with the whole going to college debt.

But really, I average less than one call a day and regularly go three or four days without a call. My iPhone’s call list currently looks like this:

C—— L–
14:10 (today)
J—- L–
Yesterday
S——– P—-
Monday
C—— L–
Sunday
C—— L– (3)
Friday
C—— L–
Thursday
N– S—- (2)
4/8/10
C—— L–
4/8/10
N– S—- (1)
4/7/10

Looking at that you’d assume I have no friends. And while I have few friends, few is greater than zero. I usually communicate via SMS. I count 8 people who I’ve messaged with in the past three days and close to 60 messages.

Message come naturally for several reasons: first; as mentioned I don’t like the phone, second; and most likely related — I’m a geek, and third; I was in college during the late `90’s and early `00’s in the US.

The dates are important because they coincide with a few monumental events:

  • Free (useful) internet on college campuses
  • Everyone had a desktop in college (at least in the technical/science fields, laptops where just coming into their own)
  • ICQ and AOL IM clients were new and exciting
  • Only drug dealers and business people has cell/mobile phones in the US

All this added up to a lot of people like me who had a computer in their dorm rooms, running ICQ or AOL all the time with an always on, free, internet connection. It was like a personal secretary while you where in class or at ciao or there was a sock on the door handle and you could not get it — yea I was always on the outside looking at the sock… at least at my own dorm room :-) You’d get back from class (and into your dorm) to find these little, often out-of-context or hours old, messages from all kinds of people and, importantly, you could choose to respond or not as you wished.

IM served as both a real-time communication mechanism and a message taking system. You could safely ignore it if you were studying (or leeching off Napster or gaming or browsing Pr0n!) and these little love notes would be waiting to fill your emotional void or provide that elusive answer to the take home exam when you were ready for them.

Anyway, all of this experience with both real-time and asynchronous communication over IM in college proved a good training ground for SMS. I moved to Europe in 2001 and landed smack dab in the middle of the SMS revolution. And being a poor college student I was a pre-paid customer (such thing didn’t even exist in the US till long after I returned) so when I went to London I used very, very… very, little voice. It cost as much to say hello on a voice call as it did to have an entire conversation on SMS! I got so used to using text to communicate with people that when I got back to the US and joined a company working in SMS interoperability I was one of only two people in the company who had ever sent an SMS before starting there (the other guy was German so he head start at it.)

So, yea, I’m a thirty-something and I don’t talk on the phone.

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