Friday, July 6, 2007

Sorry, Right Number

By Lars Trodson

Nobody I know has an iPhone. I think I know one person with a Blackberry. I must not run with a very fast crowd. Everyone I know has a cell phone, but today that’s like having a pair of pants.

I was thinking about the iPhone -- not forlornly -- but rather if it was actually taking over the country as the media would have you believe. So I Googled the question: “How many iPhones sold?” and came up with a wire services article that basically said Apple wasn’t saying how many they had sold, but industry analysts figured the company may have moved as many as 500,000 or as few as 250,000 units.

I no longer thought this was a phenomenon. Half a million people out of a country with more than 300 million? Hmmm. Oh, well. Onto the next fad, whatever that may be.

I don’t know the specifics of what the iPhone has to offer, but I do get the sense that it offers you the world at your fingertips. You can log on, and get your mail, and dial anyone in the world, and IM and all that. It will of course identify the person calling you, just as you are identified on the phone of the person you are calling.

This was not always the case, of course. Phone calls used to be an adventure. The phone was a simple plastic thing back in the day, with a rotary dial and a cradle for the receiver. It did two things: it called in and it called out.

You could actually misdial a number, which would lead to something like this:

“Hi, is Phil there?”

“Phil? Phil who?”

At that point you either hang up or simply say, “Sorry, wrong number” and then hang up.

You also never knew who was calling you. When the phone rang, you had a few options: don’t pick it up and let the caller figure out that you’re not at home (or not picking up); picking up the phone and disguising your voice and if it was someone you did not want to talk to you could immediately hang up. This left you with the awkward option of, upon seeing that person later on, telling them they probably dialed the wrong number. Or you could pick up the phone and simply hope for the best.

Sometimes, of course, on the other end was a person you simply did not want to talk to, and you’d give yourself a silent “oh, damn!” and try to get off as quickly as you could. How many of us remember a family member waving their hands frantically – the universal symbol for “I’m not here”

Or, in the best case scenario, the call might be from someone you really did want to talk to, in which case answering the phone was like a little gift.

But with caller ID it’s tricky. There is never any surprise, you always know who is trying to get in touch with you, and if they text you, you know what they are going to say. It’s like a communications GPS device: you can’t get lost any more.

I imagine the iPhone and its generations of successors will take even more mystery out of how we communicate. In a way that might be too bad. On the one hand, we always know who is on the other end, but those little surprises we once had upon hearing the sound of a voice we really needed to hear when we least expected it is long gone.