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Thursday, 5 February 2004

I've been making movements, with the idea that there will be some advantage in all of them, despite my lack of a plan or even a completely clear goal state. Then I looked again. The future state has advantage in every movement. And Change is slowly occuring. Right now, movements might bring disadvantage, for all I know. Or maybe it's just important to keep busy. Or maybe the only direction to go is up.

Telephones

Right now, we live in a very visual culture. People make biological explinations for this, which I'm not prepared to discuss, but it's important ot note that Western Culture was not always visual. During the Medieval period, most information was translated verbally. Thus listening was more important than seeing. Even literate people were trained to read aloud, rather than silently, so in literacy there was still a sence of an auditory component through which information was relayed.

Many factors in our modern culture have changed that. Television. Movies. Widespread silent literacy. Visual images have become the dominant communication medium. Sight is now culturally more important than listening.

Thus, when you sit in a room and talk with someone, you are doing so in a visually-dominated milleu. You look at them, looking for information cues, such as facial expression, twitching, body language, etc. This makes up at least half of the communication. You also detect other stimuli, which we are less aware of, such as pheremones. The voice alone is telling less than half the story.

This means, that under ideal circumstances of perfect audio reproduction, let's say 24 bit audio at 96 k sampling, with a perfect condenser microphone, you're getting less than half of the cues, especially the emotional cues. And most voice reproduction is not so ideal. Take, for example, the telephone. Under a perfectly clear connection, the sample rate is not so high, the bit rate is lower and many high and low frequencies have been filtered out so as to require less bandwidth. Most phones have very cheap dynamic mics and equally poor speakers. Subtleties are lost. Voice inflections, rich in emotional content, are compressed away, filtered out, not reproducable by the speakers and not picked up by the mic in the first place. This is under ideal circumstances, making a phone call to somebody down the street on a perfectly clear line. What percentage of content is actually getting through?

Now, think of a very long distance line. If you're calling Europe, for example, your signal is bouncing off a satalite or going through a very long trans-atlantic cable. Your phone is probably analog, with heavy filtering of highs and lows. The signal gets converted to digital part way through by the phone company, using A to D converters that are probably less than perfect, probably passing again through a filter to clear out analog line noise (and taking some of your signal with it), then it gets sent across the atlantic, then is re-converted to analog, again with not a studio-quality D to A converter, or recompressed and sent out to your cell phone, which does it's own D ot A conversion using whatever circuts are included in the thing. your voice has been routed a long way, filtered, compressed, converted A to D to A and maybe to D and A another time again, and otherwise mangled. Some of your packets were probably lost. You're lucky if there's not static or echo or both.

On the one hand, it's entirely astoundingly miraculous that you can be standing in Connecticut and hear the apartment noises of dinner being cooked in an apartment in France, while it's actually happening. On the other hand, how much data is really getting through? It's something like a cruel joke, in that it implies that communication is possible, but then drops so many pieces of it, making communication extremely difficult.

Having phone conversations with strangers works well because there's often very little emotional content. Having phone conversation with someone you see frequently can also work well. We are creatures of habit. You are used to reading their cues, because you spend time around them and have the full picture of their cues fresh in your mind. But that gets lost if it's not practiced. The cues that you can read over the phone, because you read them all the time in person, get less clear over times of seperation. Thus the phone, once a handy way of saying you'd be a few minutes late to dinner, subtly turns against you as the distance and time seperating you grows.

The parable of the frog not jumping out of a slowly heating pot and getting cooked, alas, is not based in fact. Nevertheless, it can take time to realize that the phone is not helping things. The seeming miraculousness of it disguises it's evil intent. It's like the devil appearing to the unsuspecting and performing false signs and miracles to lead would-be visionaries into heresy.

It is barely possible to have an emotional conversation in a long distance phone call. It is impossible to conduct a relationship over the phone. What is the answer to this dilemna?

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