Mobile phones have changed the world. I know hardly anyone without one these days; even most diehards who, two or three years ago, swore they’d never get one are now surfing the web and texting while on the go. It’s been an incredible revolution over, I guess, the last 20 years. I had my first car phone in the 80s but that wasn’t truly mobile. The fact was, if I wasn’t at my desk, in may car or at home, I still couldn’t be caught by phone.
But now, if I don’t answer your call, I’m obviously ignoring you and have to spend the first few minutes of the next time we speak explaining that I was already on the phone, in a meeting, out of range, in the toilet or possibly all four things at the same time which doesn’t matter because, well, how would you know?
One of the biggest changes brought about by the phone occurred to me while wondering why my daughter doesn’t speak to me as often as she does to her Mum. I mean, when I was a young man having moved away from home I spoke to both my Mum and my Dad in equal measure. So, doesn’t she love me any more?
Then it occurred to me. Apart from sales people doing “surveys” to avoid the Telephone Preference Service regulations, nobody phones us at home any more. When I used to phone home, it’d be answered by whoever was nearest and there was a 50/50 chance regarding who you got. Now one chooses whose mobile one’s going to call and, even if that person’s unavailable, nobody else answers. So if she’s phoning for her mum, she isn’t going to get me. I guess it’s understandable that if a daughter wants to talk about shopping, it’s more likely she’s going to phone her mum rather than her dad. Or maybe she just hates me.
I know of a hair salon with a number of different stylists. But the only way you can book a particular one is to phone their individual mobile number. They wear Bluetooth earpieces and stand there cutting away, asking you about your impending evening when all of a sudden you think you’ve lost track of the conversation. You haven’t; they’re just talking to someone else. Taxi drivers use a similar system. Ask them if they’ve had a busy evening (the only question they ever get asked, or so I’m told) and they’ll reply: “Yeah, not too bad. Started quietly but 15 Arcadia Avenue and I’ll be there in 15 minutes”.
We’ve still got the one incoming phone in our restaurant. I can’t see us ever getting to the stage of giving each member of staff headsets and their own number but there again, it’s said that a chief of IBM once forecast that there was a world market for maybe just five computers so it’s possible I’m wrong. What I do encounter more often these days is the irritating menu system when I phone restaurants: “Press one for the conservatory, two for private dining, three for accounts, four for the toilets or, if you know the extension please key it in now or, if like Bill Oldfield you lost track halfway through these instructions, press nine to be annoyed all over again”.
Should we get one of these? Does it impress the customers and make them think they’re trying to book somewhere special? Maybe the place is so successful it needs a robot filtering system before customers are actually allowed to speak to one of the staff.
It must be to save money, ensuring that as few staff as possible are employed rather than one being tied up occasionally answering calls. Well, maybe we can go one better and have the conventional phone wirelessly connected to the headset of one of the waiting staff. It’d prepare you for the taxi driver’s conversation on the way home: “So that’s two medium sirloins with a side order of greens and a table for two in 15 minutes”.
I hope you can eat quickly.
Previously published in The Northern Echo