Operator, I've Been Disconnected

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They’re doing it everywhere these days. In restaurants, couples do it across the table. People do it on the sidewalk, in their cars--even at the isolated beaches of Vieques, my island paradise. 

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They’re committing the solitary sin of texting. And almost everybody is doing it. Walk down a Manhattan sidewalk and you have to navigate your way among the men and women—mostly younger—whose gaze is glued to their phones.

According to last year’s Pew Internet Project:

  • 90% of American adults have a cell phone
  • 79% of cell phone owners say they text
  • 67% check for messages even when their phone is not ringing or vibrating
  • 44% of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed
  • 29% say their cell phone is “something they can’t imagine living without”

With statistics like these in hand, it’s easy to see why we think of ourselves as the “connected society.”

But aren’t we really more disconnected than ever? Aren’t texting, automated voice response systems and voicemail making us more the “anonymous society?”

Try calling HughesNet, for one. This outfit provides satellite Internet access at my Cape Cod home. They force you to go through a series of diagnostics over the phone before they deign to connect you to an agent—in India. Last week I called twice in one day, and both times I had to go through this process.

One more example. Last month I called ADT to cancel service at my Vieques home. After I waded through the menu options and finally got through to an agent, she told me to write a letter to the attention of an anonymous “Cancellations Team.” Otherwise, my account could not be canceled and I would continue to be billed monthly—forever.

These are just two examples. You have others of your own. But one thing is sure. Gone is the comfort of phoning a company and hearing—instead of an anonymous, robotic voice—a human answering on the first ring and saying, “May I help you?”

I spent several years working at the Silicon Valley company that invented voicemail. As with so much new technology, this pristine concept was misused in the marketplace. Instead of becoming a wonderful productivity tool, voicemail became a ubiquitous device for companies to cut headcount while concealing themselves from the peskiness of actual customer interaction.

Croatian-American inventor Nikola Tesla is quoted as saying after a career during which he won nearly 700 worldwide patents:

“There is a difference between progress and technology. Progress benefits mankind. Technology does not necessarily do that.”

When Karl Geng was CEO of Siemens Rolm Communications in the nineties, we didn’t realize how prescient he was in noting:

“If the invention of the telephone was announced today, people would think it a miracle to be able to have actual voice conversations.”

 

In next week’s blog, writer Katherine Relf-Canas, an alumna of ROLM, strikes a differing point of view with, “Dumb Love, Smart Phones”

 

The stories in my new e-book, A Light from Within, picture a year in the paradise locales of Cape Cod and Vieques Island—the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens. Available for downloading and gifting at:

Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00R3SF200

iBooks (iPad): https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/a-light-from-within/id950880424?mt=11 

Barnes & Noble (Nook): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-light-from-within-peter-w-yaremko/1120862902?ean=9780990905004


 


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  • commented 2015-01-17 10:52:14 -0500
    The saddest is when you see a family with children at a restaurant and everyone is texting or checking their FB account. The saving grace in all of this if there is one? Restaurants are not as noisy as they used to be.