Also, my wife never answers her phone

Clive Thompson reports that we (we the people, not he and I) are making fewer phone calls, and the length of the calls is also going down. He explains this as follows:

This generation doesn’t make phone calls, because everyone is in constant, lightweight contact in so many other ways: texting, chatting, and social-network messaging. And we don’t just have more options than we used to. We have better ones: These new forms of communication have exposed the fact that the voice call is badly designed. It deserves to die.
Consider: If I suddenly decide I want to dial you up, I have no way of knowing whether you’re busy, and you have no idea why I’m calling. We have to open Schrödinger’s box every time, having a conversation to figure out whether it’s OK to have a conversation. Plus, voice calls are emotionally high-bandwidth, which is why it’s so weirdly exhausting to be interrupted by one. (We apparently find voicemail even more excruciating: Studies show that more than a fifth of all voice messages are never listened to.)
The telephone, in other words, doesn’t provide any information about status, so we are constantly interrupting one another. The other tools at our disposal are more polite. Instant messaging lets us detect whether our friends are busy without our bugging them, and texting lets us ping one another asynchronously. (Plus, we can spend more time thinking about what we want to say.) For all the hue and cry about becoming an “always on” society, we’re actually moving away from the demand that everyone be available immediately.[)]

Much of this has been so obviously true for some time that Thompson shouldn't need to write it and I should not need to blog about it. 

I'm interested in the next step here, though. Tons of my friends and virtually all of my coworkers have iPhones. But many do not like to enable instant messaging or their work email account on the phone. For them, it crosses a line in terms of their availability to the man. But having all of those tools available makes it so much easier for the rest of us to creatively cope with workload that depriving oneself of that flexibility seems absolutely insane to me. 

In old movies, people would take the phone off the hook when they didn't want to be reached. These days, we just don't answer every chat. 

What about you, dear readers? Does your smartphone keep you tethered to work, or help you get free?

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1 comment:

  1. stardate06259419/8/10 17:25

    I can see why others, especially the self-employed, would find their cell phones essential to their jobs. I, however, enjoy the luxury of being able to maintain a clear boundary between work and not-work; therefore, I don't use my iPhone for work purposes at all. When I do choose to work off-site, it's through my work-issued MBP with iChat and email so there's no need for a phone. I'm also keenly aware that any device I use to access internal information is subject to inspection by The Man, so there's another excellent reason to keep my phone work-free.

    While we're on the general subject here, I recommend reading Hamlet's Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, by William Powers. I've only just begun to read it and am already delighted.


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