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kottke.org posts about telephony

Is your smartphone betraying you?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2016

Introspection Engine

Edward Snowden and Bunnie Huang are working on a system to help smartphone users determine whether their phones can be tracked. Their aim is to protect journalists from being detected while they’re in the field.

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has been working with prominent hardware hacker Andrew “Bunnie” Huang to solve this problem. The pair are developing a way for potentially imperiled smartphone users to monitor whether their devices are making any potentially compromising radio transmissions. They argue that a smartphone’s user interface can’t be relied to tell you the truth about that state of its radios. Their initial prototyping work uses an iPhone 6.

“We have to ensure that journalists can investigate and find the truth, even in areas where governments prefer they don’t,” Snowden told me in a video interview. “It’s basically to make the phone work for you, how you want it, when you want it, but only when.”

They are calling the device an introspection engine:1

Snowden and Huang are calling this device an “introspection engine” because it will inspect the inner-workings of the phone. The device will be contained inside a battery case, looking similar to a smartphone with an extra bulky battery, except with its own screen to update the user on the status of the radios. Plans are for the device to also be able to sound an audible alarm and possibly to also come equipped with a “kill switch” that can shut off power to the phone if any radio signals are detected. “The core principle is simple,” they wrote in the blog post. “If the reporter expects radios to be off, alert the user when they are turned on.”

Huang also announced today that he’s suing the US government over Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act:

Section 1201 means that you can be sued or prosecuted for accessing, speaking about, and tinkering with digital media and technologies that you have paid for. This violates our First Amendment rights, and I am asking the court to order the federal government to stop enforcing Section 1201.

  1. Good name, although I believe they missed a good opportunity to call it the Snow Bunnie. Perhaps that was the code name?

We Work Remotely

Amazon’s ad-supported Android phone is only $50

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2016

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can buy the BLU R1 HD smartphone for only $50 (or double the memory and RAM for $10 more). The phone is unlocked so you don’t need to sign a 2-year phone contract, but Amazon’s ads and product offers display on the lock screen (just like they do for the Kindle). According to Joanna Stern at the WSJ, it’s no iPhone or Galaxy, but it’s great for the price.

No, the R1 doesn’t feel or look like a premium phone, but it also doesn’t feel like something you’d find on a Toys “R” Us shelf. The metal frame and the touch screen’s curved edges give it a weighty feel, while the black plastic casing is more firm Coke bottle than flimsy ShopRite water bottle. Even the power and volume buttons have a satisfying click.

The 5-inch, 720p screen is very bright and viewable at multiple angles, even outdoors. It’s not as crisp as the 1080p displays you’ll get on $200 Moto G4 or Honor 5X, but again…$50.

In only 9 years, we’ve gone from smartphones with touchscreens being magical to companies nearly giving them away. Back in 2009, John Walkenbach predicted that Kindles would be free by sometime in 2011.

The price for Amazon’s Kindle 2 has dropped again. It started at $359, and then was reduced to $299 last July. Now it’s $259.

If this price trend continues, it will be free by June, 2011. I’m actually serious about this. At some point, the Kindle will be free. It will probably be before June, 2011.

The cheapest Kindle is currently $80, so we haven’t quite gotten there yet. Which is a bit puzzling now that I’m thinking about it again. Amazon is famous for playing the long game. If compare the cost to giving away a free Kindle (or highly subsidized higher-end Kindle) to every Prime member who signs up or re-ups for two years vs. a) the revenue gained from the ebooks purchased by those customers, b) the revenue from new Prime members, and c) being able to offer a package which is basically free shipping on all Amazon orders + Netflix + Spotify + a ton of free books + a free Kindle…that’s gotta make good economic sense for them, right? I mean, unless so many Prime users already have Kindles that giving them to those that don’t doesn’t make sense.

Anyway, it’ll be an interesting race…will the smartphone beat the Kindle to free? (via df)

Phones for the people

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2015

From Kevin Slavin and Bunnie Huang on location in Shenzhen, China, a look at what changes when you stop designing phones for companies and start designing them for people. You end up with a variety of phones satisfying different desires, from tiny phones that double as Bluetooth earpieces to phones that look like a race car or a pack of cigarettes or a soda can to phones with built-in lamps.

Diverse Phones

Diverse Phones

Diverse Phones

A spin around the internet reveals many more examples of these kinds of phones: flashlight phones, lighter phones, phones with up to 4 SIM slots, super-rugged phones w/ walkie talkie capability, credit card-sized phones, watch phones, and USB key phones. (via @triciawang)

Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2015

In the NYT, Sherry Turkle provides the backup data to confirm what you already know about the digital age: Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.

Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel … Even a silent phone disconnects us.

Screen addiction (or why Grandma’s sad)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2015

Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children, from Jane Brody in the NY Times:

Parents, grateful for ways to calm disruptive children and keep them from interrupting their own screen activities, seem to be unaware of the potential harm from so much time spent in the virtual world.

In reply, John Hermann writing at The Awl:

The grandparent who is persuaded that screens are not destroying human interaction, but are instead new tools for enabling fresh and flawed and modes of human interaction, is left facing a grimmer reality. Your grandchildren don’t look up from their phones because the experiences and friendships they enjoy there seem more interesting than what’s in front of them (you). Those experiences, from the outside, seem insultingly lame: text notifications, Emoji, selfies of other bratty little kids you’ve never met. But they’re urgent and real. What’s different is that they’re also right here, always, even when you thought you had an attentional claim. The moments of social captivity that gave parents power, or that gave grandparents precious access, are now compromised. The TV doesn’t turn off. The friends never go home. The grandkids can do the things they really want to be doing whenever they want, even while they’re sitting five feet away from grandma, alone, in a moving soundproof pod.

As a writer for screens, someone who spends a tremendous amount of time each day staring at screens, and an involved parent of two grade-schoolers, this is precisely where my professional and personal lives meet, so I’ve done a bit of thinking about this recently. Here’s what I’ve come up with and am attempting to actually believe:

People on smartphones are not anti-social. They’re super-social. Phones allow people to be with the people they love the most all the time, which is the way humans probably used to be, until technology allowed for greater freedom of movement around the globe. People spending time on their phones in the presence of others aren’t necessarily rude because rudeness is a social contract about appropriate behavior and, as Hermann points out, social norms can vary widely between age groups. Playing Minecraft all day isn’t necessarily a waste of time. The real world and the virtual world each have their own strengths and weaknesses, so it’s wise to spend time in both.

How the iPhone surprised and then crushed the Blackberry

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2015

The full story is behind a paywall,1 but the WSJ’s The Inside Story of How the iPhone Crippled BlackBerry is kind of amazing. The piece is an excerpt from Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry.

The next day Mr. Lazaridis grabbed his co-CEO Jim Balsillie at the office and pulled him in front of a computer.

“Jim, I want you to watch this,” he said, pointing to a webcast of the iPhone unveiling. “They put a full Web browser on that thing. The carriers aren’t letting us put a full browser on our products.”

Mr. Balsillie’s first thought was RIM was losing AT&T as a customer. “Apple’s got a better deal,” Mr. Balsillie said. “We were never allowed that. The U.S. market is going to be tougher.”

“These guys are really, really good,” Mr. Lazaridis replied. “This is different.”

“It’s OK — we’ll be fine,” Mr. Balsillie responded.

RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months. “It wasn’t a threat to RIM’s core business,” says Mr. Lazaridis’s top lieutenant, Larry Conlee. “It wasn’t secure. It had rapid battery drain and a lousy [digital] keyboard.”

“RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months.”

“RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months.”

“RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months.”

Oof. (via @craigmod)

  1. You know how to circumvent the WSJ’s paywall, right? You paste the title of the piece — in this case, The Inside Story of How the iPhone Crippled BlackBerry — into Google and click on the story from the search results or in Google News. Boom, instant access.

Your iPhone is tracking you like Lester Freamon from The Wire

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2015

Freq Locations

Since iOS 7 came out in 2013, your iPhone’s Location Services has included a little-known feature called Frequent Locations, which keeps very detailed track of every distinct location you visit. How detailed? This, precisely, was when I was in my apartment over a three-day period last month:

Freq Locations

All told, my phone recorded all 33 different locations I’ve visited in NYC since April 15, including 84 visits to my apartment and 54 visits to my office, down to the minute and a ~130-foot radius. The feature is on by default if you’ve got Location Services switched on, so you can find your information by opening the Settings app and going to Privacy > Location Services > System Services (at the bottom) > Frequent Locations. You can also turn the feature off if you wish.

Apple says the feature is used to learn your favorite places and the data is kept only on the phone:

Your iPhone will keep track of places you have recently been, as well as how often and when you visited them, in order to learn places that are significant to you. This data is kept solely on your device and won’t be sent to Apple without your consent. It will be used to provide you with personalized services, such as predictive traffic routing.

It’s likely that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and the NSA (until recently) are collecting this same sort of data about you regardless of what sort of phone you use, except that these organizations do not share Apple’s public commitment to privacy. (via @dunstan)

The salad days of coin hunting

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2015

Roger Pasquier hunts for coins on NYC sidewalks and keeps track of how much he finds. He discovered an odd consequence of everyone having a smartphone: people don’t pick up change on the sidewalk anymore.

From 1987 to 2006, he averaged about fifty-eight dollars a year. Then Apple introduced the iPhone, and millions of potential competitors started to stare at their screens rather than at the sidewalks. Since 2007, Pasquier has averaged just over ninety-five dollars a year.

I know, I know, that’s anecdotal and correlation != causation and whatever, but that’s an interesting theory.

Apple Watch and the induced demand of communication

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2015

Apple Watch

Some sort of embargo seems to have lifted because here come the Apple Watch reviews! As I’m unanointed by Apple, I haven’t experienced Apple Watch in the flesh, but I do have a few random thoughts and guesses.

John Gruber notes that why Apple made a watch is different from why they made the iPhone. People were generally dissatisfied with their mobile phones (I know I was) so Apple made one that was much better. But people who wear current watches like them.

But as Ive points out, this time, the established market — watches — is not despised. They not only don’t suck, they are beloved.

I’m one of the watch non-wearers Gruber discusses elsewhere in his review; I haven’t worn a watch since my Swatch band broke when I was 17. Part of the reason I don’t wear a watch is they look hideous. The more expensive watches get, the uglier they are. Have you seen the watch ads in the New Yorker or Vogue? Garish nasty looking objects. And men’s watches are generally massive, built for lumberjacks, linebackers, and other manly men, not for dainty-wristed gentlemen like myself. I tried on a regular men’s Rolex some years ago and it looked like I’d strapped a gold-plated Discman on my wrist.

I know, I know, not all watches. The point is that for me, Apple Watch looks like something I would consider wearing on a regular basis — imagining myself living in Steve Jobs’ living room has always been more my speed than J.P. Morgan’s library.1

The subtle notifications possible with Apple Watch (taps, drawings, heartbeats) are very interesting. Also from Gruber’s review:

You’re 16. You’re in school. You’re sitting in class. You have a crush on another student — you’ve fallen hard. You can’t stop thinking about them. You suspect the feelings are mutual — but you don’t know. You’re afraid to just come right out and ask, verbally — afraid of the crushing weight of potential rejection. But you both wear an Apple Watch. So you take a flyer and send a few taps. And you wait. Nothing in response. Dammit. Why are you so stupid? Whoa — a few taps are sent in return, along with a hand-drawn smiley face. You send more taps. You receive more taps back. This is it. You send your heartbeat. It is racing, thumping. Your crush sends their heartbeat back.

In 2005, I wrote about a feature I called sweethearting:

Pings would be perfect for situations when texting or a phone call is too time consuming, distracting, or takes you out of the flow of your present experience. If you call your husband on the way home from work every night and say the same thing each time, perhaps a ping would be better…you wouldn’t have to call and your husband wouldn’t have to stop what he was doing to answer the phone. You could even call it the “sweetheart ping” or “sweethearting”…in the absence of a prearranged “ping me when you’re leaving”, you could ping someone to let them know you’re thinking about them.

Like I said elsewhere in that post, this stuff always makes me think about Matt Webb’s Glancing project:

Glancing: An application to allow ultra-simple, non-verbal communication amongst groups of friends online.

It’s a desktop application that you use with a group of other people. It lets you “glance” at them in idle moments, and it gives all of you an indication of the activity of glancing going on.

A group is intended to be less than a dozen people. A person may belong to several groups simultaneously by running separate instances of Glancing. Groups are started deliberately, probably by using a www interface, and people are told the group secret so they can join (a “secret” is just a shared password).

But the thing that has struck me the most since the announcement of Apple Watch is the idea that if you’re wearing one, you’re going to be checking your devices a lot less. From TechCrunch last month:2

People that have worn the Watch say that they take their phones out of their pockets far, far less than they used to. A simple tap to reply or glance on the wrist or dictation is a massively different interaction model than pulling out an iPhone, unlocking it and being pulled into its merciless vortex of attention suck.

One user told me that they nearly “stopped” using their phone during the day; they used to have it out and now they don’t, period. That’s insane when you think about how much the blue glow of smartphone screens has dominated our social interactions over the past decade.

From Joshua Topolsky’s review at Bloomberg:

I’m in a meeting with 14 people, in mid-sentence, when I feel a tap-tap-tap on my wrist. I stop talking, tilt my head, and whip my arm aggressively into view to see the source of the agitation. A second later, the small screen on my new Apple Watch beams to life with a very important message for me: Twitter has suggestions for people I should follow. A version of this happens dozens of times throughout the day-for messages, e-mails, activity achievements, tweets, and so much more. Wait a second. Isn’t the promise of the Apple Watch to help me stay in the moment, focused on the people around me and undisturbed by the mesmerizing void of my iPhone? So why do I suddenly feel so distracted?

The promise of the Apple Watch is to make it more convenient to send & receive notifications and quick messages, although many of the reviews make it clear that Apple hasn’t entirely succeeded in this. In the entire history of the world, if you make it easier for people to do something compelling, people don’t do that thing less: they’ll do it more. If you give people more food, they eat it. If you make it easier to get credit, people will use it. If you add another two lanes to a traffic-clogged highway, you get a larger traffic-clogged highway. And if you put a device on their wrist that makes it easier to communicate with friends, guess what? They’re going to use the shit out of it, potentially way more than they ever used their phones.

Now, it’s possible that Apple Watch doesn’t make receiving notifications easier…instead, it may make controlling notifications easier. Like congestion pricing for your digital interactions. But that is generally not where technology has been taking us. Every new communications device and service — the telegraph, telephone, internet, email, personal computer, SMS, smartphones, Facebook, Whatsapp, Slack,3 etc. etc. etc. — makes it easier to 1) connect with more and more people in more and more ways, and 2) to connect with a few people more deeply. And I don’t expect Apple Watch will break that streak. The software will get faster & better, the hardware will get cheaper & longer-lasting, and people will buy & love them & use them constantly.

P.S. While I didn’t quote from it, The Verge review is great. But mainly I’m wondering…where are the reviews from the fashion world? I assume Vogue and other such magazines and media outlets received Apple Watches for review and their embargoes lifted as well, but after searching for a bit, I couldn’t find any actual reviews. And only a single major review by a woman, Lauren Goode’s at Re/code. If you run across any, let me know?

Update: Joanna Stern wrote a review for the WSJ with an emphasis on the fashion aspect. (via @trickartt)

Update: Executive editor Nicole Phelps wrote a review for style.com. (thx, louis-olivier)

  1. Have you been to the Morgan Library? It’s great, a lesser known gem of a museum in Manhattan. I went this past weekend, in fact. But I would not like to live in such a baroque place.

  2. God, I hate linking to TechCrunch — I’ve only linked to them a handful of times and I complain about it every time — but they were the best source for this point. Apologies to my soul.

  3. The conventional wisdom about Slack is that it’s rescuing us from the tyranny of email. But when everyone is on Slack because it’s easier and offers certain advantages over email, then what? What will rescue us from the tyranny of Slack? (A: Nothing. That’s the point…we can’t help wanting to communicate in easier ways with our fellow humans, so much so that we gorge ourselves like geese at the gavage. Whatever kills Slack will be a bigger, easier communications gavage. Rinse. Repeat. Until the heat death of the Universe.)

Unbiased cellular coverage maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2014

Sensorly

If you’re thinking of switching mobile carriers (b/c perhaps a certain fruit company is releasing new models), you should check Sensorly for “unbiased” coverage maps of AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and even smaller companies like Metro PCS and US Cellular. Looks like the maps are somewhat inaccurate because they rely on contributions only from Sensorly app users. For example, there are large swaths of upper Manhattan and the Bronx which show coverage only along major roads. But still helpful to use beside the companies’ official coverage maps. (via @ludacrisofficia)

Update: Rootmetrics also has coverage maps for the major carriers. (via @ropiku)

The new fashion: phones, Dres, and Insta

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2014

This year, your back-to-school shopping may have included more devices and downloads than pieces of attire. According to the NYT, today’s teenagers favor tech over clothes. One retail analysts explains how his focus groups go these days: “You try to get them talking about what’s the next look, what they’re excited about purchasing in apparel, and the conversation always circles back to the iPhone 6.”

Making plans is difficult nowadays

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2014

A plan used to be simple: you would agree to meet someone at a certain time and place and then you would meet them there and then. Now, a plan is subject to all sorts of revisions because “cellphones make people flaky as #%@*”.

A Plan: Once heralded as a firm commitment to an event in the future, a plan is now largely considered to be a string of noncommittal text messages leading up to a series of potential, though unlikely, events.

A Cellphone: Your primary device for making plans. More specifically, the medium with which most plans are conceived and later altered. It’s imperative that you keep your cellphone on your person at all times, as you can expect all plans to dissolve into an amorphous cloud upon conception.

I have experienced this recently and am convinced this is partially a generational thing. If you spent any part of your 20s without a cellphone, the sort of thing described in the video happens a lot less. But this practice is also contagious, as most social behavior is…if you witness friends doing it, over time it becomes more acceptable to do it yourself.

Game of Phones

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2014

Ooh, I really like the idea of this smartphone card game on Kickstarter: Game of Phones.

One player picks a card and gets to judge that round. They read the prompt to everyone else. Something like ‘Find the best #selfie’ or ‘Show the last photo you took’. Everyone finds something on their phones and shows the judge, who gets to choose a winner for that round. First to win 10 rounds is the overall winner.

This is pretty much what people do when they get together anyway, why not make it a game?

From One Second To The Next

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2013

Leave it to Werner Herzog to take the driver safety video to new heights. From One Second To The Next is a 35-minute documentary film by Herzog on the dangers of texting while driving.

Powerful stuff. Don’t text while you’re driving, okay? (via @brillhart)

Those ridiculous cell tower trees

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2013

Dillon Marsh photographs cell towers disguised (poorly) as trees.

Dillion Marsh Cell

There’s one of these as you drive north out of NYC on the Hutch…it’s twice as tall as any other tree in the area, like a redwood that got lost while visiting its grandparents back east.

On the 40th anniversary of the first cellphone call

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 03, 2013

Motorola Microtac

I still remember the first time I saw a guy at a restaurant talking on one of those prehistorically massive cellphones. My dad leaned over and said, “Look at that poor guy. Never let that happen to you. Never take a job that’s so all-consuming that you have to carry a phone around, even during lunch.” A lot has changed since then (although I still often see a lot of validity in my dad’s initial response to these devices) and in the forty years since Motorola engineer Martin Cooper made the first cellphone call. Wired takes a look back at the twelve cellphones that changed our world forever.

Your phone is not at Wayne Dobson’s house

posted by Aaron Cohen   Jan 15, 2013

If a cellphone GPS system can’t get a specific read on a device, the system will return a general location. For Sprint users in North Las Vegas, the general location returned is the home of Wayne Dobson, and over the last couple years, several people have knocked on his door looking for their phone with the Find My Phone feature. These situations are generally diffused when Dobson calls the police, and he’s even invited people in to wait for the police to show up.

It’s a more serious issue, though, because 911 dispatchers have also sent police to his house for domestic disputes when an address isn’t given and his address shows up via GPS. Chilling to think of what would have happened to Dobson if he had confronted officers with a gun.

About two weeks later he was awakened at 4 a.m. by a person prowling along the side of his house. Dobson followed a flashlight beam to his bathroom window. When he looked out, the person flashed the light in his face.

“I screamed at him, ‘Who are you? Get out of my yard!’?” Dobson said. “And he said, ‘We’re the police, open the door.’?”

North Las Vegas cops had received a 911 call from a woman on a cellphone who was arguing with a man. The argument was escalating, but dispatchers weren’t able to get a location from the woman.

They looked at the location of the phone and sent officers, who arrived minutes later at Dobson’s house. He was taken outside to his front yard and searched. When officers realized the mistake, they apologized.

Dobson said he is grateful that he didn’t confront the officers with a weapon.

“I would have been on the losing end, and it would have been because of that issue,” he said.

(via @davidfg)

Your phone knows where you’ll be tomorrow

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2012

A team of researchers in the UK have developed a method of predicting where people will be in 24 hours using tracking data from mobile phones.

Studies have shown that most people follow fairly consistent patterns over time, but traditional prediction algorithms have no way of accounting for breaks in the routine.

The researchers solved that problem by combining tracking data from individual participants’ phones with tracking data from their friends — i.e., other people in their mobile phonebooks. By looking at how an individual’s movements correlate with those of people they know, the team’s algorithm is able to guess when she might be headed, say, downtown for a show on a Sunday afternoon rather than staying uptown for lunch as usual.

11 things about phantom vibrations

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2012

Feel it, feel it, feel the vibration? Ever have that feeling that something is vibrating in your pocket but when you reach for your phone, nothing is there? If you have experienced such bad vibes, you’re by no means alone. From The Atlantic, here are 11 things you need to know about phantom vibrations. Even if the vibrations are imagined, your carrier will still probably figure out a way to charge you for the call.

89 percent of the undergrad participants in this current study had felt phantom vibrations. In the two other studies on this in the literature — a 2007 doctoral thesis, which surveyed the general population, and a 2010 survey of staff at a Massachusetts hospital — majorities of participants experienced phantom vibrations.

Short term mobile phone storage for NYC students

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 16, 2012

Cell phone check truck

Mobile phones are banned in NYC public schools so a company called Pure Loyalty parks trucks outside of several schools so that students can check their phones, iPods, and other devices for the duration of the school day.

Pure Loyalty LLC is the originator in electronic device storage. We put student safety first and work together with school safety to make sure that phones are checked in and out in a timely fashion for students to go straight to class and then home after school.

Each student is given a security card to ensure that their device is only returned to them!!!! If a student with a security card loses their ticket, not to worry. We have a system in place that secures their phone. Each student is given a FREE security card. Replacement cards are $1.

(photo by Jesse Chan-Norris)

Texters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2011

From Joe Holmes, Texters, a photo series of people texting.

Joe Holmes Texters

Mark Twain on the telephone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2011

From the June 1880 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Mark Twain writes about the telephone, then a relatively recent invention. Or rather, he writes about hearing other people use the telephone:

Then followed that queerest of all the queer things in this world, — a conversation with only one end to it. You hear questions asked; you don’t hear the answer. You hear invitations given; you hear no thanks in return. You have listening pauses of dead silence, followed by apparently irrelevant and unjustifiable exclamations of glad surprise, or sorrow, or dismay. You can’t make head or tail of the talk, because you never hear anything that the person at the other end of the wire says.

No one uses the phone anymore

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2011

They text, they email, they IM, but increasingly the phone call is too intrusive of a communication option for many.

“I literally never use the phone,” Jonathan Adler, the interior designer, told me. (Alas, by phone, but it had to be.) “Sometimes I call my mother on the way to work because she’ll be happy to chitty chat. But I just can’t think of anyone else who’d want to talk to me.” Then again, he doesn’t want to be called, either. “I’ve learned not to press ‘ignore’ on my cellphone because then people know that you’re there.”

“I remember when I was growing up, the rule was, ‘Don’t call anyone after 10 p.m.,’” Mr. Adler said. “Now the rule is, ‘Don’t call anyone. Ever.’”

As a long-time hater of the phone call, this is good news.

Trend: multiple mobile phone numbers

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2011

People around the world are starting to use two or more mobile phone numbers on a regular basis for a variety of reasons (and using a variety of techniques, including special 2-in-1 SIM cards).

Another motivation to have more than one number is for the user to control how one is contacted and contactable. Naturally users typically have a strategy on handing out the right number to the right person for future contactability. Our research participants most commonly report separating private and business contacts by having separate numbers. Being able to switch one number completely offline is a way of switching the mental mode, such as “I am turning my work phone off as I am not working anymore”. Small business owners and those who deal with a large number of people can identify the type of contacts easily by differentiating which phone number they use. One Chinese electronic shop owner gave out one of his mobile phone number for his best customers, ensuring that he is always reachable for them. The ease of having another mobile phone number also provides the exclusive communication channel for some, like those in early or secret relationships.

Part two of the piece is here. (via @antimega)

How the phone book changed the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2010

Greg Beato on how the seemingly humble phone book “signaled the coming shift from an industrial economy to an information-based one”.

The phone itself was a pretty big deal, of course, helping intimacy transcend proximity. But phone books provided a crucial element to the system: intrusiveness. In the beginning of 1880, Shea writes, there were 30,000 telephone subscribers in the U.S. At the end of the year, that number had grown to 50,000, and because of phone books, each one of them was exposed to the others as never before. While many American cities had been compiling databases of their inhabitants well before the phone was invented, listing names, occupations, and addresses, individuals remained fairly insulated from each other. Contacting someone might require a letter of introduction, a facility for charming butlers or secretaries, a long walk.

Phone books eroded these barriers. They were the first step in our long journey toward the pandemic self-surveillance of Facebook. “Hey strangers!” anyone who appeared in their pages ordained. “Here’s how to reach me whenever you feel like it, even though I have no idea who you are.”

Woz and Jobs: phone phreaks

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2010

Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs talk about their short career building illegal telephone equipment, aka blue boxes.

Interesting how their two stories differ…the engineer and the marketer.

Esquire phone phreaking article from 1971

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2010

From the October 1971 issue of Esquire, Secrets of the Little Blue Box, an early mainstream piece on phone phreaking.

About eleven o’clock two nights later Fraser Lucey has a blue box in the palm of his left hand and a phone in the palm of his right. He is standing inside a phone booth next to an isolated shut-down motel off Highway 1. I am standing outside the phone booth.

Fraser likes to show off his blue box for people. Until a few weeks ago when Pacific Telephone made a few arrests in his city, Fraser Lucey liked to bring his blue box to parties. It never failed: a few cheeps from his device and Fraser became the center of attention at the very hippest of gatherings, playing phone tricks and doing request numbers for hours. He began to take orders for his manufacturer in Mexico. He became a dealer.

Fraser is cautious now about where he shows off his blue box. But he never gets tired of playing with it. “It’s like the first time every time,” he tells me.

Fraser puts a dime in the slot. He listens for a tone and holds the receiver up to my ear. I hear the tone.

Fraser begins describing, with a certain practiced air, what he does while he does it.

“I’m dialing an 800 number now. Any 800 number will do. It’s toll free. Tonight I think I’ll use the ——- [he names a well-know rent-a-car company] 800 number. Listen, It’s ringing. Here, you hear it? Now watch.”

He places the blue box over the mouthpiece of the phone so that the one silver and twelve black push buttons are facing up toward me. He presses the silver button - the one at the top - and I hear that high-pitched beep.

“That’s 2600 cycles per second to be exact,” says Lucey. “Now, quick. listen.”

He shoves the earpiece at me. The ringing has vanished. The line gives a slight hiccough, there is a sharp buzz, and then nothing but soft white noise.

“We’re home free now,” Lucey tells me, taking back the phone and applying the blue box to its mouthpiece once again. “We’re up on a tandem, into a long-lines trunk. Once you’re up on a tandem, you can send yourself anywhere you want to go.” He decides to check out London first. He chooses a certain pay phone located in Waterloo Station. This particular pay phone is popular with the phone-phreaks network because there are usually people walking by at all hours who will pick it up and talk for a while.

He presses the lower left-hand corner button which is marked “KP” on the face of the box.

“That’s Key Pulse. It tells the tandem we’re ready to give it instructions. First I’ll punch out KP 182 START, which will slide us into the overseas sender in White Plains.” I hear a neat clunk-cheep. “I think we’ll head over to England by satellite. Cable is actually faster and the connection is somewhat better, but I like going by satellite. So I just punch out KP Zero 44. The Zero is supposed to guarantee a satellite connection and 44 is the country code for England. Okay… we’re there. In Liverpool actually. Now all I have to do is punch out the London area code which is 1, and dial up the pay phone. Here, listen, I’ve got a ring now.”

I hear the soft quick purr-purr of a London ring. Then someone picks up the phone. “Hello,” says the London voice.

“Hello. Who’s this?” Fraser asks.

“Hello. There’s actually nobody here. I just picked this up while I was passing by. This is a public phone. There’s no one here to answer actually.”

“Hello. Don’t hang up. I’m calling from the United States.”

“Oh. What is the purpose of the call? This is a public phone you know.”

“Oh. You know. To check out, uh, to find out what’s going on in London. How is it there?”

“Its five o’clock in the morning. It’s raining now.”

“Oh. Who are you?”

The London passerby turns out to be an R.A.F. enlistee on his way back to the base in Lincolnshire, with a terrible hangover after a thirty-six-hour pass. He and Fraser talk about the rain. They agree that it’s nicer when it’s not raining. They say good-bye and Fraser hangs up. His dime returns with a nice clink.

“Isn’t that far out,” he says grinning at me. “London. Like that.”

Interestingly, a number of the early phone phreaks were blind kids, including Joe Engressia, who could whistle a perfect 2600 hertz tone.

Phone etiquette and the end of the individual

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2010

Peggy Nelson argues that everyone being on their mobile phones all the time — even while at a dinner for two — isn’t rude, it signals a shift from our society’s emphasis on the individual to the networked “flow”.

We’ve moved from the etiquette of the individual to the etiquette of the flow.

This is not mob rule, nor is it the fearsome hive mind, the sound of six billion vuvuzelas buzzing. This is not individuals giving up their autonomy or their rational agency. This is individuals choosing to be in touch with each other constantly, exchanging stories and striving for greater connection. The network does not replace the individual, but augments it. We have become individuals-plus-networks, and our ideas immediately have somewhere to go. As a result we’re always having all of our conversations now, flexible geometries of nodes and strands, with links and laughing and gossip and facts flying back and forth. But the real message is movement.

But au contraire, mon frere.

My new standard of cool: when I’m hanging out with you, I never see your phone ever ever ever.

If we’re hanging out and you pull out your iPhone to water your Farmville crops, we can no longer be friends. It’s not me, it’s you.

(via @tcarmody)

Pre-paid plan options for smartphone travellers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2010

If you’re going on an overseas trip and want to use your phone (with data) while you’re there, check out this new wiki on what plans are available in several countries. I hope this develops into a solid resource…I never know where to look for this stuff before I go. (via dj)

David Foster Wallace on iPhone 4’s FaceTime

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2010

The recently announced iPhone 4 includes a feature called FaceTime; it’s wifi videophone functionality. In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace wrote that within the reality of the book, videophones enjoyed enormous initial popularity but then after a few months, most people gave it up. Why the switch back to voice?

The answer, in a kind of trivalent nutshell, is: (1) emotional stress, (2) physical vanity, and (3) a certain queer kind of self-obliterating logic in the microeconomics of consumer high-tech.

First, the stress:

Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her. A traditional aural-only conversation […] let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet — and this was the retrospectively marvelous part — even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end’s attention might be similarly divided.

[…] Video telephony rendered the fantasy insupportable. Callers now found they had to compose the same sort of earnest, slightly overintense listener’s expression they had to compose for in-person exchanges. Those caller who out of unconscious habit succumbed to fuguelike doodling or pants-crease-adjustment now came off looking extra rude, absentminded, or childishly self-absorbed. Callers who even more unconsciously blemish-scanned or nostril explored looked up to find horrified expressions on the video-faces at the other end. All of which resulted in videophonic stress.

And then vanity:

And the videophonic stress was even worse if you were at all vain. I.e. if you worried at all about how you looked. As in to other people. Which all kidding aside who doesn’t. Good old aural telephone calls could be fielded without makeup, toupee, surgical prostheses, etc. Even without clothes, if that sort of thing rattled your saber. But for the image-conscious, there was of course no answer-as-you-are informality about visual-video telephone calls, which consumers began to see were less like having the good old phone ring than having the doorbell ring and having to throw on clothes and attach prostheses and do hair-checks in the foyer mirror before answering the door.

Those are only excerpts…you can read more on pp. 144-151 of Infinite Jest. Eventually, in the world of the book, people began wearing “form-fitting polybutylene masks” when talking on the videophone before even that became too much.