Do you dislike having to call up people, in real time, on the phone? Would you rather text or e-mail? The Millennial generation tends to feel that way, I learned, and I admit that I do too.
Media scholar Ian Bogost tries to explain why this is. In doing so, he goes into the difference between talking on cell phones and talking on the old handset devices. Whereas cell phones are designed to be carried, rather than talked into, and are used in public places, the old landlines were designed to enhance personal conversation in private spaces. The handset phone, as well as the technology that went into it, created what he calls “a technology of intimacy.”
Well, I didn’t particularly like using the old-style phones either, but Bogost makes a fascinating case for the genius of old technology and design.
From Ian Bogost, How Portability Ruined the Telephone – The Atlantic:
One of the ironies of modern life is that everyone is glued to their phones, but nobody uses them as phones anymore. Not by choice, anyway. Phone calls—you know, where you put the thing up to your ear and speak to someone in real time—are becoming relics of a bygone era, the “phone” part of a smartphone turning vestigial as communication evolves, willingly or not, into data-oriented formats like text messaging and chat apps.
The distaste for telephony is especially acute among Millennials, who have come of age in a world of AIM and texting, then gchat and iMessage, but it’s hardly limited to young people. When asked, people with a distaste for phone calls argue that they are presumptuous and intrusive, especially given alternative methods of contact that don’t make unbidden demands for someone’s undivided attention. In response, some have diagnosed a kind of telephoniphobia among this set. When even initiating phone calls is a problem—and even innocuous ones, like phoning the local Thai place to order takeout—then anxiety rather than habit may be to blame: When asynchronous, textual media like email or WhatsApp allow you to intricately craft every exchange, the improvisational nature of ordinary, live conversation can feel like an unfamiliar burden. Those in power sometimes think that this unease is a defect in need of remediation, while those supposedly afflicted by it say they are actually just fine, thanks very much.
But when it comes to taking phone calls and not making them, nobody seems to have admitted that using the telephone today is a different material experience than it was 20 or 30 (or 50) years ago, not just a different social experience. That’s not just because our phones have also become fancy two-way pagers with keyboards, but also because they’ve become much crappier phones. It’s no wonder that a bad version of telephony would be far less desirable than a good one. And the telephone used to be truly great, partly because of the situation of its use, and partly because of the nature of the apparatus we used to refer to as the “telephone”—especially the handset.
HT: Mary Moerbe