Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Caller ID - The Bane of Initiative and Propriety

I believe that Caller ID is to blame for the general laziness of society. In fact, I think you can basically follow the (de)evolution of telephone technology for a brilliant timeline into the world's descent into pitiful lethargy.

"Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you." Those were the first words uttered electrically by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. The full history of telephone technology is lengthy and terribly tedious reading, so we'll skip ahead to the 1950s to begin our slippery timeline of laziness. In the 1950s, telephones were heavy. They were bulky. They sat down in a specific, permanent spot and took up obnoxious amounts of space. They were generally located near a desk or a countertop, where messages could easily be written.

When the phone rang, it actually rang. I mean there was a sound emanating from the thing that sounded like an actual bell ringing. When the phone rang you had to answer it to know who was calling on the other line. It was a complete mystery...until you picked up. It could be a bill collector or it could be old Ed McMahon with Publisher's Clearing house informing you that you'd won the million. And yes, Ed was old...even in the 50s.

Further, most telephone lines belonged to multiple families. You could pick up the receiver to make a phone call and your neighbor could be rapping on the phone with a friend. I'm sure it made for lovely eavesdropping.

Dialing a phone number in the 1950s took an eternity to accomplish. There were no magic buttons to push. You had to stick your finger in the hole on the rotary dial that corresponded with the desired number and you had to spin the wheel clockwise....then wait while the wheel "click-click-clickity-clicked" counter-clockwise to its original position. Luckily there were fewer numbers to dial back then. My dad's phone number was simply 2596 when he was a lad.

The 1960s
Toward the end of the 1950s, wall-mounted telephones were invented. They were slimmed down, reworked versions of the same device...just designed to hang on a wall. This did nothing more than clear desk space. You were still forced to rise, walk, pick up, and speak into the receiver.

In 1964 the world was introduced to the "Touch Tone" telephone. No more annoying time-waster of a dial to turn. Now you simply had to push a button for the number you wanted, easily shaving 15 seconds from your dialing! People got a little bit lazier.

While phone units continued to get smaller and lighter, no other real advances were made in telephone technology.

The 1970s
Technology held firm in the 70s. A "Picturephone" was released where video was transmitted (a snapshot every 2 seconds) but it went over like a lead balloon. It was bulky and insanely expensive.

More than anything else, the 1970s were about STYLE. Phones were manufactured in all sorts of groovy shapes and far out colors. Want a translucent phone that glows next to your lava lamp? No problem. One that mounts in the center of your black light poster? No sweat. The sound changed too! You could get a cool robotic, electric sounding ring instead of the actual bell.

In 1973, a company called Motorola invented the first cellular portable telephone to be commercialized. The technology had existed and had been used by the military and such, but this was the first time said technology was released for commercial consumption. It was a true beast of a machine, but it could be carried with you and used anywhere you received cell reception.

The 1980s
This is the decade where things started to really change and the descent into laziness went supersonic.

Right around 1980 the first cordless phone hit the market. All of a sudden, you didn't need to get up from the couch to walk to the wall or the telephone desk to answer the phone. You could fire it up right in the middle of MASH without missing a witty Hawkeye line or Klinger outfit. Granted, the 27MHz frequency and limited range made it sound like you were standing in the eye of a hurricane, but quality was a fair trade-off for the massive amounts of energy saved from having to rise to your feet and walk across the room. The low frequency, however, made it so that people that were talking on cordless phones in the same vicinity could hear each other and even speak to each other. This was more annoying to the phone company than to the consumer. People were able to have free 3-way calling adventures. Free is bad. In 1986, a cordless phone with a 49 MHz frequency was released to combat the 3-way calling issue.

In 1984, a market trial for a new device was held by Bell Atlantic in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. For the past 15 years, technology was being developed to allow identification information from the call originator to be transmitted and displayed to the recipient. This was the effective birth of "Caller ID." And the death of American initiative. Based on this market trial and others in the late 1980s, Caller ID became a mainstream hit and massive revenue stream for all major telecommunications companies by the mid-1990s. Suddenly it was possible to pick and choose which calls you wanted to answer based on who was calling. People, again, got a little bit lazier.

Constant advancements were also made to cellular technology. Networks were expanded and devices were improved, getting smaller and more powerful.

The 1990s
Cordless phones owned the 90s. In 1990 a 900 MHz phone was released, allowing you to go further from the base unit than ever before while speaking with a newfound clarity. Further advancements were made in 1994, 1996, and finally in 1998 with the release of a 2.4 GHz phone. Now you could walk around the freaking block on a non-cellular telephone with corded-phone clarity.

In 1995, Type II Caller ID was released and spread to the masses. This new technology allowed you to actually see caller information while you were already on the telephone. Caller ID displays were now being built onto actual cordless handsets, eliminating the need for older Caller ID boxes. Now you can screen and ignore calls without walking to look at the box. Another foot into the lazy river of laziness.

Cellular technology continued to improve. Now we have devices that are not just functional telephones, but also planners, calendars, and small computers.

The 2000s - Today
Having a telephone device entirely independent of wires or "bases" apparently wasn't enough. In 2001, the first "bluetooth" headset was released, allowing the user to actually speak on a cellular telephone without holding the damned thing to his ear.

Cellular technology is no longer its own technology...it's simply a small piece in a larger unit that we now call iPhones, Androids, and Blackberries.

Many American families have absolutely no need for "land line" telephones due to the cost-effectiveness and pervasiveness of mobile phones, but advancements are still made to said land lines.

Commonly, people consider advancements in technology to be improvements to life. Things get smaller, cheaper, smarter, faster, and more available. Technology allows professionals to be more "plugged in." But there is always a side effect.

In the 1950s people were compelled to answer their phone to know who was calling. People were forced to deal with salespeople or talk to that pesky mother in law that has nothing but evil to speak. They had to confront those annoyances head on, and I guarantee that lessons were learned in the process. Today I don't need to move a muscle to know who is calling. I don't even need to move my eyeballs. I barely have to pause my DVR to read the name and number of the person calling which is now displayed on the freaking television screen that I can't peel myself away from, courtesy of AT&T U-Verse. If my eyeballs are too tired then I need but listen to the ridiculous "Microsoft Sam"ish voice emanating from my 5-handset 6 GHz landline unit that tells me who is calling. I can literally and completely ignore you without expending a single joul of energy.

Is that healthy? No. Is there any bleed-through effect in life? I think so. Just like ignoring your annoying-ass phone call, I find it too easy to ignore those other annoyances in life. We're a lazy people and I'm your chief. Prime offender. I know people that won't answer or return phone calls. "If you want to talk to me, text me." How 'tarded is that?

Cell phones and mobile devices have thrown propriety completely out the door. I see people texting and even talking on cell phones during movies. I see Lobots wearing bluetooth headsets in church. I see idiots texting behind the wheel. I see women speeding through school zones talking on their phones. I even have kids that play around with iPhone apps during Sunday School lessons, oblivious to the fact that an adult is trying to teach them about baby Jesus. I can't imagine how hard it is to be a teacher in this day and age. These devices have made lazy, disrespectful lamers of kids and adults alike.


Technology has made it all-too-easy to avoid building real relationships. We are becoming robotic. In my last job I was able to manage accounts as a salesperson without ever having to meet or speak to someone. From initial contact to RFP to completed sale to daily management, I could handle everything from a Blackberry without even using it is a phone. Is that a good way to build a relationship?

So, in a personal effort to DO more and CRY less, I'm going to take the following action:

- I will answer the phone when it rings, regardless of who is calling.
- I will make an effort to not look at Caller ID or listen to Sam.
- I will leave the phone in the kitchen and go to it when it rings.

Will this instantly make me a die-hard go-getter in life? Probably not. Will it make me less of a lazy sofa-dweller? I sure as hell hope so. Those stairs are murder.

1 comments:

The Barker Family said...

this might be a start to an excellent exercise program! :)

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