Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I still haven't adjusted to voice-activated phones for conversation.

I cannot imagine doing my job without voicemail. Yet I did for years.

I recall the strangeness that people felt “talking to a machine” two decades ago. I t seems a world away. I do know a few older folks who still aren’t comfortable with it, but most people regard talking to a machine as entirely natural now.

As each new voice technology came in, people felt the unnaturalness of it. Tape recording goes back a long way, but it was not in everyday use for voice for most people. It was an event to speak into a microphone for recording purposes. People were nervous and tentative about it, nervously over-anticipating or freezing up operating the simple controls, or signaling each other in panic to move closer to a mike or adjust the volume. Part of this was the poor quality of most machines – tape was used to keep a record. Musicians needed good equipment or they didn’t bother. Thus to record on good equipment was also an event. Speaking into a microphone for radio broadcast takes some getting used to, but I think it's a quicker learning curve for each generation.

Listening to an ESPN phone interview where there was just the slightest delay between the parties, however, sounded very odd. All attempts at banter and jokes fell flat, because the timing and encouragement of laughter and feedback needs to be immediate. It all sounded terribly stilted. In humor, a delay before laughing is not a neutral sign, but a bad one - your audience is telling you you haven't quite got it right. I was reminded of that last night talking with my son Ben. The tiny delays suggested a voice-activated phone, and it threw me off repeatedly. Those who use it consistently have likely adjusted and don't notice, but to me, the delay keeps giving me the automatic visceral reaction "Did I just say something wrong?" It's wearying.

OTOH, his ear doesn't get too warm to continue.

I do wonder if we will eventually run up against some hard-wiring of the brain problem in constantly changing communication. Yet if we do, the technology will quicly go in another direction, I suppose.


Ymar said...

If you think that delay is bad, watch what happens when there is light speed lag of more than 5 seconds and then more than 10 minutes.

Speak in. Go back and do something else, X minutes later, get back the response in video/audio.

Retriever said...

Then again, if you are like me and HATE the phone, you could just write emails and comments on blogs...Like my kids, I somewhat prefer texts as if makes it possible to limit conversations of certain types. Of course, if I were separated from my loved ones, instead of living with them, I would value the phone. I do enjoy phone calls from the kid away from college...

As to the technology, One thing I LOVE about the smartphones and cellphones generally is that those of us stuck in city streets around people we don't know and don't like being around, can now at least talk to or get messages from the people we actually care about. Cities can be hateful, alienating places. Subway denizens are much happier looking as they troll the net on smartphones than staring into space

Donna B. said...

I'm not sure what you mean by "voice-activated phones for conversation" but then I have not even tried to keep up technologically since... oh, about 2003.

But maybe I'm familiar with the technology and not the name you used because I know that "delay" well.

First experience was with car phones in the 70s, then with patched military phone calls from the children overseas in the 90s.

Most recently with VoIP, especially when the call is to someone overseas. My first attempt with that was Louisiana to the UK and I was still on dial-up! It was absolutely hilarious though no actual communication occurred.

What I have always absolutely hated and pretty much refused to use is any kind of instant messaging. The "delay" is part of the reason for that, but the main reason is the assumption on the other end that if I'm online I'm "available" to chat.

That "availability" factor is why I love caller ID and voicemail, but the worst part of having a cell phone.

karrde said...

What I find most annoying is when my cell phone/normal phone connection causes me to hear the echo of my own voice. I'll say something, then I'll hear it over the ear-piece a quarter-second later.

I've also seen phone which have a 'voice-command' mode. Someone will push a button on their phone, and say 'call Jon', and the phone will dial. Pretty amazing. But I've never used it.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Donna B - I have a psychiatrist friend who has decided the most effective method is to skip every other generation of technology. He went from tapes to MP3's, skipping CD's, and will skip whatever's next. I'm thinking along those lines as an alternative to being a communication Luddite.

Sam L. said...

I had a voice-activated system in the early '70s. We were advised to make some sound to start with--recommended was "A-rodge".