Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Number, Please.

At some time or other, I suspect that we have all had the feeling. That sense of loss, of bereavement, of being all at sea with no sight of land upon the horizon. The sort of feeling that Alexander Selkirk must have had as his ship disappeared from view, unaware that his adventures would turn out to be a best-seller. I could go on but, you’ll be relieved to know, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. My mobile phone has quit again.

I remember the first telephone that graced our household. It was a marvel of technology. There was a hand piece thingy, one end of which you put to your ear and the other end which you put close to your mouth, the designers having cleverly figured out the median size of the average human head. From this there ran a piece of string stuff which tended to tie itself in knots. This connected to a small black box from which another piece of string stuff, less addicted to knotting itself, disappeared into a hole in the wall. It was magic. One put the hand piece to one’s ear and mouth and listened. A disembodied voice would say “number please,” at which you spoke the number required. It was voice technology at its finest. Simple, uncomplicated and delightfully efficient. The disembodied voice would perform the necessary and, voila, there you were, speaking to Tom, Dick or Harry or whomsoever’s number you had spake.

We had one of these devices for many years and, as far as I can recall, not once was it stolen or mislaid.

Then technology produced a telephone that did away with string A, the knotty one, you will recall. This enabled one to walk around the house whilst talking to Tom, Dick or Harry etc. It also allowed you to put the phone down anywhere on finishing your call, so that, when it rang again, the entire household would be in an uproar looking for the thing.

Finally, they got rid of both pieces of string. The mobile cellular phone was with us. Well, with us for most of the time, as the problem of locating it just mentioned still existed and was compounded by the fact that the device was delightfully easy to mislay or to get itself stolen.

In my case, it was that it simply failed to work.

As this was not the first time it had let me down, I consulted the oracle who knows all. I was lucky. The Greeks used to have to trudge all the way to Delphi for advice, I only had to go as far as the kitchen.

“Get a new one,” said the oracle. It was, of course, a stroke of genius, the sort of blinding flash of inspiration that comes to few of us in our lifetime.

As our local bar tabac was temporarily and inexplicably out of stock, I turned to the Internet and specifically to the website of France Telecom, Orange, who refer to their sales page as being a boutique, which my dictionary describes as being a small shop selling clothes. Very odd.

Now that I have your attention, might I explain what it was I was looking for? Thank you. I only ask since Orange failed to understand me, it seems. I wanted a device that, when I punched in the appropriate numbers, would allow me to contact the aforementioned T, D or H or others and have a conversation. It seemed so little to ask for and yet, browsing the Orange Boutique was a frustrating experience. For a start, there was what might be described as an embarrassment of riches, that is if you’re into the telephone thing. There were just too many different sizes and models. And all claimed to do far more than I would ever need. Even if I knew what it was, my chances of wanting SMS, MMS or wanting to play a video game whilst waiting for T, D, or H to answer were slim. The possibility that I might want to take a photograph, even slimmer. And there were an alarming array of technical details on display that would have deterred a nuclear physicist, I think, along with the terrifying possibility that I would have the capability of downloading umpteen “ring tones” should I so desire.

I could also have the latest weather just in case I hadn’t noticed it was raining, along with the sports news from around the world. I could receive and send text messages, retrieve the latest stock market reports, send E-mails or watch videos. It was cutting edge technology all right.

But they did not have in their boutique, the telephone I wanted.

This would be one that, when you turned it on, a voice would say, “Number Please,” and, in a trice, you would be speaking to Tom, Dick or Harry, et al.

Now that’s advanced voice technology. Perhaps someday it will be with us.

When Alexander Graham Bell called his assistant in from the other room, I bet he didn’t want to take his photo, play a video game or send him a text message. And he probably knew if it was raining or not.


Blogger Nej said...

What you want (don't you hate sales people that tell you what you want?) is a phone with voice activated dialling. Press a button, speak the name of Tom, Dick or Harry and you will be magically connected, just like in times gone by.

Except you don't have to ask an operator named Mabel to connect you.

4:19 pm  
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