Cellphones are becoming useless at their primary function – Voice and text

Posted on September 30, 2010. Filed under: Social Media |

I’ve noticed a very disturbing trend. It’s that cellphones are becoming useless at their primary function – which is voice and text.

I’d been talking about and tweeting my thoughts and dissatisfaction with the sorry state of cellphone services today when I came across a blog post by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, who also believes that voice calls are becoming obsolete. He makes some good points:

Generally speaking, a cellphone conversation is a frustrating failure if any of these conditions is true.

1. You have a weak signal.
2. You are using an earpiece or headset.
3. The other person has a weak signal.
4. The other person is using an earpiece or headset.
5. The other person has a cell phone (delay problem).
6. You are multitasking and can’t think.
7. The other person is multitasking and can’t think.
8. You are in a noisy environment, such as Earth.
9. The other person is in a noisy environment, such as Earth.
10. You get another call you have to take.
11. The other person gets another call he has to take.
12. You have a dying battery.
13. You have a phone that drops calls for no good reason.
14. The other person has a phone that drops calls for no good reason.
15. The other person has a dying battery.
16. You are in a restaurant and you’re not a jerk.
17. The other person is in a restaurant and isn’t a jerk.
18. There is a child within 100 yards of you.
19. There is a child within 100 yards of the other person.

Yes, that covers almost every situation. And the list goes on. In my life, voice calls using cellphones fail more often than they succeed, and the situation is getting worse. There was a time when most cellphone calls involved a land line on the other end, so at least one end of the conversation was likely to be trouble-free. Now most of the calls I fantasize about making would be between my cellphone and another cellphone. I don’t like those odds. So I send text messages instead.

Voice calling is in a sorry state pretty much across all providers. I’ve been using cellphones long enough to remember a time when you could expect a pretty decent service. Now it’s rare that I get a call clear enough to fully understand or one that doesn’t drop. It seems that the smarter that phones have become, the dumber the network has become. Part of the problem I feel is that while coverage has improved on the whole, it feels like it’s spread more thinly, like butter on warm toast.

Where Adams and I disagree though is that while he feels that the future is text messages, I believe that they are rapidly going the same way as the dinosaurs and the dodo. Nowadays I hate using text messages as much as I hate voice calls. Why? Because I can send a text and it can then vanish into some spooky black hole where it can reside for hours or days before being delivered. Text conversations are broken up across space and time, and the whole purpose of sending a text message is lost.

Note: Voice mails also seem to enter the Black Hole on a regular basis too …

Not only has sending messages been rendered pointless, so has receiving them. If I get a “Yes” text message from someone, I’ve no idea if that’s a reply to the message I sent five minutes ago or one I sent last week. That’s not the kind of information you can act on. And there’s no point sending a text to confirm because that will likely linger in the spooky black hole for a random period of time before being delivered.

Note: I always try to add context around my text messages to compensate for the variable time dilation effect between me sending sending and the recipient receiving it.

So why have a smartphone? Simple, web access. More and more I see email and Twitter and VoIP replacing voice and text. Sure, there are plenty of times when these don’t work too, but they’re far more transparent than the services that cellphone providers offer. Sure, Twitter/Skype/Facebook/IM/email all suck at times, but they are infinitely better and more reliable than my cellphone provider is at delivering text messages in a timely fashion.


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Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology.

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