I have always thought the phone (land line or cell phone) was a bad place to communicate important matters, particularly if the subject has controversy attached to it.
I don't know how many times over the years that I got in a conversation with someone over the phone and ended up in an argument about something that if we had been face to face, I doubt that would have happened. Not looking at someone and communicating, and instead just hearing their voice often leads to either misunderstandings or clues about the other person's communications through the look on their face, their body language, etc.
In many ways cell phones have taken that problem to new heights. And voice communication is not the only problem. Texting can be even worse.
Last summer the transmission in my truck failed while we were pulling our trailer over the Indian Canyon summit. I had to have it towed into a local garage and got my flatbed hooked up to pull the trailer back to town. Initially we were in a place where cell phone reception was spotty so my wife was texting one of her friends about the situation. As anyone who has texted knows, messages can get mixed up. The keys on a phone are small and it is easy to make mistakes. Add autocorrect to that, and well it can be downright dangerous to sent a message.
She wrote to a friend that day "Truck is dead. It is in the garage. Be home soon."
Somehow the message was changed to reflect my demise instead of the trucks. "Rick is dead. It is in the garage. Be home soon."
When we got home our land line and our cell phones were ringing off the hook. The friend thought I had died and my wife had put my body in the garage. It would probably be one of the places I would like to lay in state after my death (there is a lot of stuff important to me there, you know, kind of like the Pharoahs of Egypt being buried with their riches). But I would rather not have that happen for many years.
A couple of months ago I got a call from one of our readers, but I was not available so my voice mail picked up. She had called about an article she was not happy about so she was probably set off already, and I think getting my voice mail made her madder. When I got the voice mail, the cell connnection had one of those echos that I think everyone gets sometime. You know when you are talking and you can hear yourself and it takes out everything from the other end, except this one was in reverse. I couldn't understand a thing except that it was a problem with something I had written that she wanted to talk to me about. Worst of all her name and phone number were totally obscured. I figured she would call back. She did. She got my voice mail again because I was in a meeting and when I pulled the message, it sounded just the same (except I could tell the person on the other end was even madder now). Finally about three days later she called again and I was able to pick up this time. She read me the riot act about me not calling her back. I tried to explain what had happened but she would accept my apology and raved more about that fact she had not heard back from me. It turned out the whole thing was over a misspelled name in the article.
But it isn't just cell phones either. I often get voice mails on my phone here at work with people wanting me to call them back. Heres how it often sounds: "Hi. This is D-l-c-a Heeraiat and I need to talk to you. My nu-bbber is 216 4444 56879."
There are a multitude of problems here. First of all voice mail is not perfect and things do not always sound as it should. Second connections can be bad, especially on cell phones. People call me all the time from their cars and they sometimes are passing through areas where part what what they said is dropped. Finally people talk like they actually have you on the line, live. Now if someone called me and gave me that message live I would ask "Could you pleae repeat your name and number? I didn't get that."
Finally people either talk really fast on a voice mail or they don't have all the information. I have actually had people call me and give me three different phone numbers during a message because they weren't sure which one was correct to recontact them.
We have become so accustomed to getting ahold of people when we want them, we also become very impatient when they don't call us right back.
A number of years ago I wrote a piece about our societys "Microwave Syndrome." Since the advent of the microwave oven (where we can cook a meal in five minutes which used to take us an hour to prepare) we have moved our expectancy about the speed at which everything happens from normal speed to super speed. Cell phones seem to have made that even worse.
Now I like my smart phone, don't get me wrong. I have used it for directions, information and many other things. But I guess maybe we the people, need to change how we do things on it a little. We need to slow down and think; we need to be sure the messages we send through text are correct before we send them. And as for photos sent via the phone, we need to be thoughtful about what we send. We need to ask "Will this be important or meaningful to the person I am sending it too?" and if it is a photo of someone we need to ask "Would they want this sent out?"
The world is so different when it comes to communication from what it even was a decade ago. Maybe our etiquette needs to be different too.