Why our phones are no longer mobile

Mark Wall Telephone

Living in Somerset is great. 

The wide open spaces induce calm. The relatively sparse population builds friendship and community.  But communication can be tricky.  So some kind of phone is essential.

In the old days, buying a phone was easy.  Well, not easy but at least linear.  You contacted the post office (younger readers may well need the assistance of google at this point) or the post privatisation British Telecoms, and requested a line.  Then you waited.  And waited.  And after some considerable time a man (it was always a man) came round, did some drilling and tutting, drank copious amounts of tea (it was always tea, we didn’t have coffee in those days), and eventually deposited a strange thing with a dial on it on the hall table (again, always the hall table).  You were allocated a number and off you went.  You had a phone. Some people shared a line with other families and it was always a bit embarrassing when you wanted to make a phone call and overheard the other family talking on their phone about their haemorrhoids or something as sensitive.

Then the mobile was invented. 

Of course, no one calls it a mobile anymore because all phones are mobile.  It is as unnecessary as saying you have bought a new mobile car, or boarded a flying plane.  My kids think I’m making it up when I say that when I was young phones were tied to the wall and you always had to have a supply of 2p pieces whenever you went out.

These days the process is quicker but fraught with tension.  I must have spent hours gently perusing the numerous phone shops along Bridge Street and East Street looking at deals.  But do I need more minutes and less data?  Or do I need a camera that competes favourably with Hubble and enough storage space to run NASA.  How many G’s do I need?  4 or 5?  Why do I need to protect my screen?  And don’t get me started on cases….

Then there’s the apps.  Weather, news, shopping I can sort of see.  But it’s all gone too far now.  You can get apps that tell you where you parked your car, how to pop a pimple (with plenty of visuals), how to ghost hunt and when you are likely to run out of toilet paper.  I’m not wild/weird/odd/brave (delete as appropriate) enough to have any of these but I do now have an app that puts my central heating on when I’m out and another that tells me when to go to sleep and then reports in the morning on how well I slept.

They are powerful and clever, truly inspirational pieces of tech.  But do they make us happier?  Well, yes probably.  I now have more knowledge in my pocket that you could find in the main library in Paul Street.  And better pictures.  I have more music at my fingertips than the entire stock at Our Price.

So I guess I should put up with the confusion.  Maybe a phone buying app?  There’s a thought…

Lack of Communication

Lack of Communication

Governments are not always the best at communicating.  This is odd when you consider they have to be good at telling people who they are and what they will do if elected.  If they were rubbish at this they’d never get elected.

But strangely once they get into power, the desire to communicate seems to dissipate.  More likely they spend more time and money on communication when they campaign than they do when they are actually governing.

So it’s nice to see an example that bucks the trend.

The advice to wash your hands to reduce the risk of contracting corona virus is important and helpful.  But explaining the science of disabling viruses is tricky.  Most of us failed biology GCSE (is it even biology that matters here? Or chemistry?) so talk of “microscopic parasites that lack the capacity to thrive and reproduce outside of a host body” (thank you Live Science .com) or “small infectious agent that replicate only inside the living cells of an organism… (they) can infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants to microorganisms, including bacteria and archaea” (bless you Wikipedia) is probably not helpful.

But, when we are told to wash our hands for as long as it takes to sing happy birthday twice – we all get it.  We instinctively know what this means without thinking about it.  It makes the task obvious and easy.  You don’t think of the means, the metaphor or the mechanics.  You just do it.  Good communication work best when you don’t realise you are being communicated with.  It’s like a good PA system.

What can we learn from this about our communication?  Three things:

Be basic – don’t be over clever.  Don’t use words or concept that you don’t really need to.  Ask if every word and phrase you are using actually take your argument or narrative forward.

Be naff – clichés works, as long as they are not overused.  People like naff. They may mock you or take the mickey but they will remember and understand and that is what matters.   Clichés became clichés because lots of people used them and repeated them.

Be consistent – one government minister this week tried to raise the tone by saying we should wash our hands while singing the national anthem.  This just confuses things!  It is true that lots of radio stations are now trying to find alternatives to Happy Birthday.  But this is fine as they are all dancing around the basic theme of happy birthday.  So even as they find alternatives they are re-emphasising the original.  But for a government minister to suggest a different way doesn’t help.  Source credibility and consistency matter.

So stay safe, wash your hands and rejoice in the rare experience of effective government comms.

Now, pass the alcohol gel.