Rotary Telephone

It won’t be long before telling someone you made a telephone call would be like saying you’re listening to an 8-Track or “playing a record.”

One of the most enduring technical achievements of the past century is morphing into a new way of talking. Gone are the days of the rotary, the push button and the curly cord. When was the last time you saw a telephone booth?

Seems like everyone, young and old are staring into a handheld screen these days and what we used to call a telephone is evolving into something altogether new.

Standing on the shoulders of Alexander Bell, the luminous glow on faces in restaurants, classrooms and yes – automobiles are for lack of a better term – personal computers and they’re really…personal. Sure, you can still make a call, but that’s the most trivial of functions..

From email, weather, stocks, games, video, web browsing, apps and maps or texting, the “smart-phone” needs a new name. The Japanese are alread a step forward referring to their device as a “keitai” – meaning something you carry with you.

One of the phenomenal characteristics of this new phone is the fascination with text-messaging (SMS) – especially among GenX through the Millenials and we’re finally starting to see some of the facts.

A recent study by the Nielson Company estimates teens are texting more than 3,300 messages a month. In contrast overall phone conversations dropped by 14% among this demographic. They still spend 646 hours a month speaking, but there’s something in the wind as simple phone calls become less important. In fact, according to another Nielsen study cell phone usage peaked in 2007.

Teens cite their use of text as both convenient and less of an interruption. Although the report still cites teens actually talk some 646 minutes each month, they still are charmed by the functionality and convenience of SMS, considering it easier (22 percent) and faster (20 percent) than voice calls (though still fun).

Wired magazine’s Clive Thompson also suggests telephones will soon be a thing of the past too.

In a September essay he says, “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.”

His essay generalizes the subject of telephone calls, but I see his point.

Telephones are an interruption. Most of the time they are unexpected. Many of the calls can most often be long and unnecessary. However, a long conversation with an old friend is certainly a cure for what can be troubling you – even if it is simply a voice in your ear.

The spoken word has much more depth than a text message or email, but imagine what it’s gonna be like in a couple of years when we integrate face-to-face conversations into the new handheld landscape?

Although Skype and iPhone already have face-to-face conduits, the mobile rush will no doubt usher in a new real-time conversation as the video phone transcends voice-only devices.

Steve Jobs announced a new software application last week called FaceTime that operates with the Apple operating system. Launch the program and your webcam activates and lets you to call anyone to share facetime – that is if they have a smart-phone that supports video. It’s only a matter of time before every competitor includes this as a primary feature and gone will be the days of another sense of privacy.

Thinking ahead, I’m still looking for telepathy breakthroughs.

Until that time a trip to make attic reveals my own fascination with the telephone. That’s where I keep my first bag phone, the first Kyocera smart phone, a few PDAs and other “antique” gadgets that kept me reaching out to my friends and associates.

Let’s face it, phones are a fashion trend these days and the manufacturers are reaping the awards of a business model that is fueled by tech lust and status – and that’s good news for the accountants. In the meantime – I’ve got another call.