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For whom the bell no longer tolls

The ringtone has passed over the threshold of usefulness and is now beginning its journey towards Anachronism Avenue, Historyville. For people under the age of 21, telephones used to ring to in order to alert the recipient of a call to the fact that someone was calling them and that they ought to hurriedly relocate themselves from wherever they happened to be, to wherever the phone happened to be in order to receive the call. So, a ringer made perfect sense when we had a single, immobile phone.

For a long time telephone calls were also the only method of distance communication in realtime (I'm ignoring the telegraph) and compared with writing and mailing a letter, phonecalls were by far the most efficient method of communication. Today however, talking with someone by phone is actually much less efficient than email, text messaging or any one of a multitude of electronic communications methods. So much so that the phone part of smartphone already feels anachronistic in much the same way as referring to, as one did around the turn of 1900, the first automobiles as a horse-less carriages.

I'm not sure, but I think my iPhone's ringtone has been set to silent for about three years. I couldn't even tell you what sound its configured to make when it does ring out loud. This started as a courtesy to others when in meetings it would chirp annoyingly upon receipt of every email. And over time this practical courtesy has combined with the fact that alternative electronic communication methods now negate the need for most phonecalls.

The foreshortening shelf-life of the phonecall is not helped by my perception that many of the calls I do get are from people trying to sell me something. So, the phonecall feels increasingly like an intrusion that sits outside my shell of personal intimacy where, accordingly, the people who are really important to me get my polychronous, silent attention every waking hour.

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