Friday, April 17, 2009

On Context

The following footnote on an excellent blog post by James Kwak struck me in a funny sort of way:
I got my data from the financial supplements on this page. There’s a small discrepancy in the Q1 2006 numbers, depending on whether you look at the Q1 2006 release or the Q1 2007 release. But it’s only about $100 million, so I didn’t bother looking into it [emphasis mine].

Now, his use of the words "only" and "small" is (I think) intentionally ironic. The funny part is that it's also appropriate. (Look at the scale of the vertical axes in his graphs.)

I tend to ideologically disagree with Kwak and his co-blogger Simon Johnson on a number of points, but their blog is still highly recommended. I (belatedly) thank my mother-in-law for having directed me to it.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Sound Off!

The New York Times has a little piece about the impending demise of voice mail, which if it's true could be the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. I have no idea if it is true, mind you. The closest I've ever come to reading the tea leaves of technological advance came early in my adolescence, when I ingeniously came up with the idea of a coffee maker that had a timer built into it (so that your coffee is already brewed when you wake up), only to discover that such a wonderment actually already existed. To be honest, before reading the article, I had no idea that I was not alone in hating voice mail. The knowledge that there are other people out there like me, that I may in fact be part of some kind of movement, is strangely empowering.

The funny thing is that my current phone service doesn't even include text messages - I pay separately for each text I send or receive - and for that matter, I really dislike writing text messages on my phone. I even tell my friends not to send me texts, but when they ignore this request, and I actually receive a text message, it's an invigorating experience: all that they had to say to me is right there, on my phone's display screen. Whoa. It's like my first train ride. I don't have to dial anything, or hear a Majel Barrett sound-alike tell me that I have "TWO UNheard MESsages... FIRst MESsage, SENT TOday, at SEVen SIxtEEn P.M." I don't have to sit through several stammering sentences of my friend or loved one trying to find the right words to tell me one sentence's worth of information. I should say that I don't mean any of the above as an indictment of anyone who has ever contacted me via voicemail. I am very bad at leaving succinct voice messages myself. Voice mails have their place, for now. I just hope that they don't keep it for very much longer.

"But Cous," you're thinking, "What about the human element? You don't get to hear the inflection in someone's human voice by reading a text message from them!" To that, I have two responses: first, I don't think voice mail is going away completely. I think you'll still be able to leave your mom a touching voice message on Mother's Day when she misses your call because she's on the phone with your older brother who she loves more than you, and you can still call your friend from outside the pub on St. Patrick's day to sing them the first few bars of "Danny Boy," before you get to the part where you don't know the lyrics. It's just that most of what we use voicemail for is better suited for other modes of communication, or soon will be. Second, unless it's that touching voicemail from your not-quite-favorite child on Mother's Day, there's nothing all that human about voicemail as it is. You can't converse with your voice mail messages, after all; you can only play them back. Ever miss a phone number in someone's message and ask them politely to just repeat that part? Try it sometime. You'll realise that, however familiar the voice you're hearing may be, you're not interacting with a human being, but merely a lifeless facsimile of that human being. That's right: for all that they can do, voice messages are incapable of love.