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OPINION: My phone doesn't understand me!

by Jerry Nichols | July 21, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

A week of so ago, my wife and I were taking part in a coffee klatch gathering, when at one point the conversation turned to our phones, our cell phones to be more exact. In most cases our friends use smart phones, although a few of us are still sticking to our dumb phones.

I actually have a "new" flip phone, which AT&T sent me to make me compatible with their newer 5G network. Apparently they will do away with the older 3G network early in 2022. It seems that it wasn't so long ago that they were advising me that they would soon be dropping their older 2G network and having me get a new phone to be compatible with the new 3G technology which, of course, was for a time the "latest thing."

Going to 3G was meaning then that we were really "with it," we were keeping up with the latest technology. Apparently it doesn't take very long for new technology to get old. Our coffee group was talking about the ups and downs of getting accustomed to new phones, especially new smart phones. At one point one of the ladies commented that "My phone doesn't understand me!" I'm thinking, what an interesting comment on the times we live in!

One could interpret the thought of not being understood by one's phone as actually just saying that I don't yet understand my new phone. Most of us, when we get a new phone, go through a time of fumbling around trying to get clear on just how we make this new thing work for us. The software writers, whether for Apple phones or Galaxy or whatever, seem always compelled to modify how the buttons function, how the menus are organized, and where you go in the system to accomplish the things we want to do. But, in these days, it seems that we actually don't just mean that we don't understand our new phone's controls, but we indeed kind of expect our phones to understand us.

Some of the phones encourage us to "talk" to them, to give them vocal commands, to make use of their audio activated controls. I personally still avoid getting into those audio commands, even though they seem to work better these days than they did a few years ago. I have long had a negative view of voice recognition software, feeling that it has been put to use in many applications even as its performance is still poor. It still bothers me to try to call the phone company to discuss a problem and to have to go through a robot who asks all these extraneous questions and can't understand my responses while I am trying to get through to a human being who can understand what I am saying. I still just want to use my phone to talk to a person. I don't want to talk "to" the phone, I want to talk "through" the phone. We kind of want our phone to know how to fit itself to us, but I may be saying that I don't really want my phone to understand me, I just want it to work in a way that is convenient and understandable for me. I guess it is not really the phone that we want to understand us, but it would be nice if the people who write the computer software for our phones could understand how we like to do things.

It is kind of remarkable to me that we still call our new gadgets "phones." They are not phones in the sense that we have previously had phones. They are actually computerized radios. I want to say that detectives Dick Tracy and Sam Ketchum in the 1940's comic pages had the terms in better order. They had two-way wrist radios back then. Or, more properly, two-way wrist radios were their imagined idea of a new-fangled technology yet to be invented, but which maybe might be possible some day. Well, although some of us back then were thinking that two-way wrist radios would never be real, it turns out that they are not only real, but nearly everyone has one.

Some of us don't quickly adapt to new technologies, but we may adapt given a little time.

I always remember my mother's response when I gave her a microwave oven for Christmas. She was telling me that she would never use it, that she would never learn what to do with it. Well, we just left it with her, and I guess her curiosity led her to look at it with a little patience and persistence. Anyway, when we came back to visit her next time, she was using it every day, and actually really liked it.

This is why I often say that old people are not really that resistant to change. They have actually been changing and changing and changing all their lives, and sometimes while they are wishing some of the things could just stay the same, they just need a little more time to accustom themselves to the new stuff. Would that everything new could really be better than the older stuff. I'm not at all sure that things like computer software or phone control menus are necessarily better than what was before.

For example, I was long a user of Microsoft Word 97 and Excel 97. Now we have newer versions of those programs, but I don't see them as improvements. Things that used to be out in the open and easy to access, (like Format), are hidden in long menus in the newer versions. There is user efficiency loss, not gain. I think my software writers don't understand me!


Editor's note: Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge and an award-winning columnist, is vice president of Pea Ridge Historical Society. He can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected], or call 621-1621.

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