Telecommunication and the story of Alice and Bob

Telecommunication and the story of Alice and Bob

20110508 Box feeling empty 150x150 Telecommunication and the story of Alice and Bob

Have you ever walked down the street, minding your own business and been startled by someone suddenly seemingly talking to themselves out loud as they walk past?  Perhaps you were in deep contemplation, enjoying your own inner world of peace, winding down from a stressful day at work.

 Are they crazy?  Probably not; many people talk to themselves, I’m told. But in this instance they weren’t; they were using their hands-free kit with their mobile phone.  Whilst the uptake has been slow, it’s a sight that’s becoming more common and I always find it looks a bit peculiar.

Direct energy transfer

When I was a student I used to use MSN messenger a lot, as it was a cheap means of instant communication, teleconferencing and exchanging documents.  In fact, many of our group projects and meetings were conducted over MSN messenger, which was both lazy and ingenious.  I call it intellidolence.

It was a fairly novel thing to be able to do and when I described it to my parents they immediately related it to telex.  In essence it was the next generation of telex, or telex 2.0 perhaps.

I remember a conversation I had with a friend, in which I mused that whilst this method of communication is instantaneous, it is actually extremely indirect compared to telephony.  In normal vocal face-to-face communication, there is a direct energy transfer from one person to another, for example from Alice to Bob.  Alice’s vocal cords vibrate, which make the air vibrate, which makes Bob’s ear drums vibrate.  It is a direct transfer of energy from Alice to Bob.

In telephony Alice’s energy is absorbed by her receiver and is used to manipulate the electrical energy flowing down the telephone line and the sound energy that comes out of Bob’s receiver is not Alice’s original energy, but is more akin to playing back a recording.  It is like Alice putting on her favourite Britney Spears CD.  It is not actually Britney Spears’ energy filling the room but a modified form of electrical energy from fossil fuels (dead plants and animals) and ultimately the sun.

Instant messaging is even more indirect in that there are many more relays between the message originator and the recipient. 

Technological change

It’s funny how some communication technologies catch on and others, such as Google Wave, don’t.  I rarely use MSN anymore these days and prefer telephone or face-to-face contact.  And Facebook?  That’s something for another article.  In terms of the communication options available, not much has changed.  Visual communication remains predominantly in the form of writing and aural communication predominantly in the form of voice calls.  Morse code, for example, is rarely used by most of us.  Video calls have never really caught on and nothing has really changed about telephony.  More gizmos have been added, such as SMS and phones have got smarter, with cameras built in, but none of this has really changed the essence of telephony.

Telephone 2.0

Continuing the tale of our friends Alice and Bob, they both work in a factory that makes widgets.  In fact, the factory makes everything you can think of from pixie dust to pink bins with faces on.  A few years ago they were the world’s leading supplier of unicorn fodder, which was distributed around the world.  Rumour had it, The Wombles were loyal customers and bought tonnes of the stuff.  Even Margaret Thatcher was rumoured to buy it “for her cats”, but Alice thought she saw her gorging on the stuff in her back garden once, feeding from a trough like a pig.  This was before she got into politics.  Okay, before I get sued, none of this is true – it’s just a story – and it doesn’t necessarily reflect my political opinion… or does it? ;).  Bob always maintained it was an hallucination, induced by an adverse reaction to pixie dust.  Ever since that incident all employees have had to wear protective clothing when handling the stuff.

The factory’s head office was on the other side of the country and whenever they had to order new face masks they had to fill in a purchase order and have it approved by Head Office.  Head Office would then place the order, but not until several iterations of filling in purchase orders, which were inevitably filled out incorrectly each time because Head Office kept changing the rules, seemingly to annoy Alice and Bob.  Alice and Bob would spend hours talking on the phone to Head Office each week, arguing over purchase orders.  One day, Alice had an idea: Telephone 2.0.  It involved building a boxing glove into every telephone handset, which would spring out and thump the person you were talking to in the face after you entered a special code on the keypad.  They manufactured these at the factory for a year, but these never took off for obvious reasons.

As I said above, some technologies catch on and others don’t.  The Telephone 2.0 project was abandoned and R&D funding directed towards Betamax 2.0, which is still ongoing.  Bob reckons it’s going to be the next VHS and kill Blu-Ray and DVD dead.  What about all those unused Telephone 2.0 boxes?  Alice has already asked Head Office to buy them labels to stick over the logo, so they can be re-used.

The box that feels empty

Fantastical stories aside, the humble box in this photograph is very similar to the ones used for Telephone 2.0.  They weren’t made to look like faces, but they do.  They seem to lead a miserable existence, especially when they aren’t used – it makes them feel ‘empty’… [boom-boom-tsh!].  Incidentally, did you know you can still get empty boxes from supermarkets these days?

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