The phone voice has always fascinated me. It’s like we have a different personality when we’re answering the phone. The ability to switch was impressive.
Are you familiar with this? I first noticed it when I was a child. We shrieking, arguing, playing, fighting children would be running amok around the house, and Mom would lose it. A stream of orders, admonitions and angers would be launched, stopping us dead. In the midst of her tirade, the phone would ring, and she would answer it with such a sweet, polite voice, it was amazing.
That’s back when we didn’t know who was calling. She was also answering a phone hard-wired into a system and affixed to a wall. Cherry red, this wall phone featured a thirty-foot coiled cord. At first, that phone had a rotary dial. Push buttons — they were always gray — eventually replaced the dial, and then the Princess replaced that big, clunky phone, and the Princess succumbed to the smaller, neater Trimline.
But the coiled cords stayed long for many years. That long cord enabled wandering around while on the phone. If you could also master the neck hold, you could practice hands-free calling. The neck hold meant the phone was wedged between a shoulder and ear with the mouthpiece angled toward the mouth. Mom was able to do this so frequently and consistently, I was amazed that her shoulder returned to its normal position after she hung up.
These things have changed. Hands-free means you’re not using your shoulder. Speakers and headsets are available. The phone voice isn’t gone, but tailored specifically to who is calling. Caller identification and ring tones dictates the phone voice tone. One young friend says that when her Mom calls, she always answers with a flat, weary, “What is it, Mom?” This is because Mom is calling with worries, complaints and concerns, and never just to chat. On the flipside, a Mom I know answers the same way with her son, because he’s always calling to ask for money or help.
We did have a caller ID system, and did tailor the phone voice to the situation. When I was younger, we children were excited and honored to enjoy the privilege of answering the phone. Of course, it also meant we didn’t want to give it up, telling our parents, “No, I’m talking,” when we were toddlers just getting the hang of it. As we aged, we became the caller ID system. “Dad,” (or Mom), “it’s work.” Or Aunt Sally or Uncle Doug, or Grandma Barb. “The person taking the call would usually mutter something about, “What do they want?” Accepting the phone, they would turn on the phone voice for that specific caller.
That sweet, ultra polite and professional phone voice still exists at work where customers and clients are calling. In the military, we were required to answer according to which lines were ringing. I was in the Command Post, where phones abounded. Crash lines and hotlines to headquarters were not answered; you just picked them up and listened while scrambling to copy information. For outside calls, we identified the location and function, along with our rank. If it was a non-secure line, that was mentioned, and then we asked them, “May I help you?” For the direct lines to the various directors and commanders and their homes and offices, we only answered with our name and rank.
My, how we’ve trained ourselves. Of course, I use this growth and phone specialization in my writing and try to extrapolate how and what might come about. In the novel of the distant future now in editing, people don’t use phones. They’re on nets, basically a voiceover wireless protocol. Most people have a team net, ship net, corporate net, social net, private net, personal net, system net, family net, and friend net. Many have additional nets. While some of those seem redundant, they’re sliced and diced according to individuals’ preferences.
Various systems of bioware direct the calls, with your personal assistant – who is on their own net – informing you of who’s calling on what net. Virtual presence, virtual intelligence, and virtual personalities provide greater options. Calls can be answered, ignored, or shunted into various automated systems. Virtual personal assistance then often digest the calls’ contents, feeding into memory what needs to be known, remembered, or accomplished.
This is done effortlessly. It’s not unusual for a person to be on multiple nets simultaneously.
All of this thinking about phone voices was triggered by Twitter. The current White House occupant loves his tweets and Twitter. This has inculcated a shadow Twitter nation that responds to his tweets with their tweets. Then the media analyzes the tweets and responses even while reporting their takes and tangles. Even though it’s all in so many characters, there’s a distinct voice to everything written.
Often, though, it really seems like a toddler has gotten hold of the phone, and is yelling at the others, “No, I’m tweeting!” Yet, oddly, my future folks don’t text, or Twitter, because that requires using hands. It makes me wonder, though, what’ll it be like in another twenty-five to fifty years?
Writers, what do you see in the future?