anachronistic phone calls
Monday, May 10 2010
It was another cold, windy day. Usually once spring has sprung, it stays that way, but this particular spring has proved unusually fragile and subject to setbacks. I haven't even been able to plant the garden yet for fear of a late-season frost. Supposedly it was 33 degrees Fahrenheit this morning in Hurley, though that was probably measured in Old Hurley, which tends to be something of a frost pocket.
I continued having difficulties understanding the scope or parameters of a web development integration job I am supposed to be doing. I'd do a little work, ask a few questions via email, and then go outside to do some stone wall construction on tomato patch #2 while waiting to get an answer back. Thankfully none of the people I am working are big on telephone communications. I hate the telephone and would boycott it entirely if I could (I felt this way even when there were no alternatives). But there are still people who anachronistically make phone calls, sometimes even to me. I usually let it fall through to the machine unless doing so will require me to call back. Phone communication has many drawbacks that are completely solved by email:
That last item is real deal breaker for phone communication in my line of work. Still, sometimes a phone call can be useful, particularly in the early stage of a project when no precision is actually necessary and participants are feeling out what is possible. In those cases, the nuances of real-time verbal communication are actually more valuable than technical precision. Still, this doesn't make me like those phone calls any more than any of the other interruptions I try to avoid.
- Phone calls are necessarily interruptive. There is a ring which one is expected to respond to in real time, dropping whatever it was you were doing. This can be further interrupted by call waiting, which allows for the interruption of an interruption. That's pure madness! I try to avoid answering the phone, but I make a policy of not answering a call that comes in during a call I am presently dealing with.
- One has to respond in real time to the phone. The problem with responding in real time is that you don't always have your facts handy to make an intelligent response. With email, though, you can do Google searches, cut and paste precise responses out of other documents, and carefully parse whatever it is you are responding to.
- There is no record of a phone call. This is a huge handicap when one is dealing with a complicated issue. Sometimes I need to go back and marshall what things I know from a communication thread, but the part that was communicated by phone is absent from that record. Also, communications via telephone are not searchable in any way.
- Phone communication is imprecise. Particularly when technical matters are being discussed, precision is essential. A large fraction of my emails consists of URLs, login credentials, and path names. None of this can be reliably communicated by phone. Furthermore, in spoken form a surprising amount of jargon and technical terminology results in nothing more than grunts of faked understanding. When this same jargon is received via email, the recipient has the tools (Google, Wikipedia, etc.) to decode these terms and understand what they mean at his or her own speed.
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