Saturday, June 09, 2007

Kurt to Enterprise

My wife has a cell phone, and like so many people, she seems to love it. I do not. In fact, I do not plan to own one, at least until a user-friendly cell phone is designed, and oddly enough, it doesn't seem to be coming any time soon.

Admittedly, I am not the most social person in the world, at least in terms that most people would call "social." I do participate in the community of mankind, but I prefer to have some form of insulation, such as a computer, or at least a telephone, to hide behind. But I often have difficulty in what most people would call "ordinary conversation," which I take to mean "the relatively undisciplined exchange of more or less random thoughts, ideas, and opinions." I love to learn. I love to think. Anything else is boring to me, or at least seems relatively useless. I realize that this makes me something of a social cripple, but hey, you can't be and do everything. One must make choices, and accept the consequences of those choices. At any rate, that's who I am.

On the other hand, I can certainly accept and even appreciate to a certain extent that desire for connection that most, if not all of us has. We are networking entities. Each of us has a brain that is a neural network, and which is by design, constantly looking for new nodes to link with. So, I can well appreciate the desire for such tools as writing, mail, telephone, radio, television, and the Internet. Cell phones are a step in the evolution of communication technology, that allow people to connect an communicate independent of location.

And perhaps I would own one, except for one particular and disturbing flaw in the design of every cell phone that I've ever seen or heard of. Cell phones are tiny, and the ear piece is generally less that 2 inches from the microphone. This is a source of great bewilderment to me, and I continue to try and understand the social phenomenon that drives this design. Every time I use a cell phone (usually because my wife hands me hers) I feel like saying "Kirk to Enterprise." They look a lot like the communicators in the original Star Trek series. Unfortunately, however, the volume and sound quality prohibit us from using them by holding them in front of us and talking, as they did in the original Star Trek series.

Generally speaking, the tools we design for ourselves are built around our physical characteristics. A chair, for example, has legs which are usually less that 2 feet long, because of the length of the human leg. Chairs with longer legs generally have some form of foot rest built into them, to accomodate the length of the human leg. Beds are about 6 feet or longer in length, due to the average size of the human body. Automotive vehicles have driver compartments that are shaped and sized according to the average shape and size of the human body, and mechanisms for adjusting the dimensions on an indivdual basis. Most buildings have ceilings that are at least 6 if not 7 feet tall, again, to accomodate the size of the human body.

But cell phones, apparently all of them, are made as small as possible, almost all without any means of extending the distance between the ear and mouth pieces. This results in the uncomfortable practice of constantly readjusting the position of the cell phone to either hear better or to be heard. And this bewilders me to no end.

Certainly, size and weight are an issue. I am old enough to remember the first "wireless" telephones, which were essentially 2-way radios, and generally used in cars. They were about the size and shape of a walkie-talkie. This was due to the state of technology at the time, but I note that the distance between the ear and mouth pieces was about the average distance between people's ears and mouths. As time went by, we became better at putting more technology into smaller areas, and "wireless" telephones began to shrink.

However, at some point, this "requirement" of smallness seems to have taken a life of its own, without regard for its original purpose, which was to make "wireless" phones easier to carry, and less tiresome to hold for long periods of time. Instead, the concept became "smallness is a virtue, and the greater the smallness, the greater the virtue."

Now, I can certainly understand the desire to make the size of a cell phone small enough to carry in one's pocket, and perhaps even as thin as a credit card eventually. But this does not imply that when in use, it should not be extensible to fit between the ear and mouth comfortably. After all, umbrellas have employed such technology for at least 100 years. Even the communicator in the original Star Trek series opened up and became about 7 inches long (long enough to have been held with the earpiece and mouthpiece congruent to the locations of the human ear and mouth). They didn't hold it that way, but that was because they didn't have to. Apparently, they (the fictional society of the future) had the technology to make their communicators audible and able to hear the human voice at a distance. But we don't have that technology yet. We must hold the ear and mouthpieces within a small distance from our ears and mouth to be able to communicate. But that is not the case with cell phones. Why?

Is it because the world is full of fools who imitate each other imitating each other like monkeys imitating themselves in a mirror? Is it because innovation is only payed lip service by industry, because to truly step outside the "box" of social convention is dangerous, and most people are full of fear? These are some of the possible reasons I can think of. Unfortunately, I can't think of any good ones. After all, how difficult would it be to make a cell phone that extends like an umbrella, or a pair of headphones? Surely, if we have the technology to make cell phones the size of Star Trek communicators, we have the ability to make them telescope.

It puzzles me, because honestly, I can't figure it out. If this were the case with some cell phones, but not with others, I would understand. But it is so pervasive. I don't like puzzles I cannot solve. In the meantime, though, I must admit I prefer having a space and time in which nobody can bother me. It takes me 30 minutes to an hour to drive to and from work. And that is my "me" time; it is my time to think and ponder. But this question is really bothering me. Hopefully, someone will answer it, or at least I will eventually forget about it.

Ah well. So it goes...

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