Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “electronic communication”

My love-hate relationship with my Android cell phone

A few months ago I started getting notices that my cell phone was due for an “upgrade”. I had “upgraded” it two years ago, found that it was in fact a downgrade (the camera on the new phone was completely useless), so I kept the old one, and gave the new one to my son, who didn’t care whether the camera worked or not.

This time I looked at what was on offer, and was after the one with the best camera specification. And the only one that fitted the bill was an HTC Cha Cha, which had, so it said, a 5 megapixel camera, which was the same as Val’s old Samsung, which I had inherited last time she upgraded. So that’s what I went home with.

I also bought a magazine-sized book on how to use an Android phone, since that’s what it was. It seems that the more complicated the phone, the less they tell you about how to use it. So i bought the extra book and began to read it.

I’ve had my new phone for about 3 months now, and, book or no book, I’m still battling to use it.

This one has a QWERTY keyboard. That looked nice. I could get an “s” by pressing once instead of four times. What was not apparent at first sight, though, was that unless I was using the phone lying flat on my back in bed, with the bedside light on, I could not see the number buttons. Presbyopia and all that. And since some numeric key pads have 789 on the top row, and others have 123, you can’t really learn to do it by feel. That was probably the most stupid design decision of the 20th century.

It has a special blue button for sending pictures to Facebook. That looked as if it could be nice, except that it only worked about one time in 5. It has a button on the screen that you press to take a photo. It works about one time in five too. I once took a photo and then pressed the Face book button to send it, and it took a photo of the floor when I pressed the Facebook button and wanted to send that.

It did send the photo I took in church last night, while waiting for the service to begin. It never did begin; our priest, Fr Athanasius, was stuck in traffic for two hours, so we had the agape meal and went home.

But still, It should be possible to get the photos off it with the cable, if it takes them in the first place, that is. And, for all that it is supposed to be a 5 megapixel camera, the quality of the pictures isn’t much better than the cheap Nokia I traded in for it.

Then this morning it rang. I pressed the green button to answer the phone and lifted it to my ear. It was still ringing. Pressed the button again, lifted it to my ear, and it was still ringing. Pressed it again, lifted it to my ear, and heard a remote phone ringing. So maybe it was a missed call, and was calling back. No, it was calling back to someone who had not called me today.

I hear the phone beep, and it tells me there is an SMS. I press the message to read it and it tells me to pull the ring to unlock the phone. I [pull the ring, but then the message disappears. But there is a little thing telling me that there is 1 message. I press it. Nothing. I press it again. Nothing. I press it again, and get a message to say that I can move the button that is telling me that I have a message that I want to read. But it won’t let me read the message that I want to read, just move the button telling me that there is a message.

And if want to send an SMS? The old Nokia Dumbphone would give me a list of contacts in alphabetical order, and I could send a message. If they were lower down in the alphabet, I could press the first letter of their surname and it would take me there. But not this one. This one gives me everything in no order, and lots ofpeople it has pulled in from Facebook and Gmail, who I don’t have phone numbers for because they live in other countries.

My daughter hears I have an Android phone and phones me and tells me of all the wonderful apps that I can download. Apps? Who needs apps? I’d be happy just to be able to make and receive phone calls, and to send and receive SMSs without being asked if I want to move buttons first. And to take decent photos.

And then, to crown it all, I get an SMS, from Vodacom, my service provider. They say that they hope I have enjoyed using the PROMDATA service, and that I can continue to use it by paying the regular rates.


I never heard of this PROMDATA service, and have no idea what I am supposed to be enjoying.

I go to their website, and got and make a cup of coffee while it loads. I search for PROMDATA, and go and clean my teeth while waiting for the answer to load. Not found. It seems that their Website has never heard of PROMDATA either.

I search around and click on a link to email them. After getting tired of waiting for it to load, I went to the kitchen and made a couple of slices of toast. Got back to the computer, and see that the page still hasn’t loaded, so call up my e-mail program and dash off an e-mail asking about PROMDATA to, and cc it to support, info and a few other possibilities.

A slice of toast later the e-mail page has finished loading, so I copy the mail message I sent with my e-mail program, and paste it there. Send it. Ten minutes later it’s back with a problem. It must have a 10-digit cellphone number. I count the digits I entered. Ten. What now? Oh, perhaps it doesn’t like the dashes. Remove dashes and resend.

Ten minutes later it suggests that before sending I should look at their help pages to make sure that they don’t have the answer to my question. One must not waste the precious time of the underpaid people at their call centre, you know. I look through some of the irrelevant questions to which they have given splendidly accurate answers. None of them say what PROMDATA is, and if they did, surely their search function would have found it 40 minutes ago? Surely? Surely?

So eventually it sends that too.

It has taken me about an hour to ask the meaning of one stupid SMS that they sent me. Not to find the meaning, just to ask about it.

In the mean time, if you have tried to phone me, and I haven’t answered, then it may be because I didn’t hear the phone ring (because I forgot to switch it back from “vibrate” after church), or because I heard it ring, and pressed the answer button, but it kept on ringing, or because it was waiting for me to move some button around the screen, or trying to determine whether I was at the gasworks.

Just send me an e-mail instead.

And preferably in plain text, without all those trade mark Euro thingies in it[1].

I just love 20-year-old technology, like e-mail. It’s so much quicker and easier.



[1] The trade mark Euro things are another problem, and nothing to do with cell phones. It’s just that some people send e-mails full of Trade Mark and Euro symbols, sometimes in the middle of words, which makes their messages hard to read.

Facebook – caution or conspiracy?

I’ve already commented that I’ve found Facebook too much to cope with Notes from underground: I can’t face Facebook any more!. Since they introduced third-party apps it changed from being a useful tool into a burden and a distraction and I now look at it maybe once a fortnight or less often.

Then Anja Merret blogged about it, pointing out that the terms of service implied that you virtually relinquished copyright to anything you posted on Facebook, so that if, for example, a professional photographer posted some of their work on Facebook, Facebook could use it for advertising, selling or anything else. Several commentators said or implied that Anja Merret was succumbing to conspiracy theories and that the threat to privacy on social networking sites like Facebook was overrated, but it seems that Syria takes these threats seriously, and has banned Facebook, seeing it as too vulnerable to Israeli espionage.

When Facebook started, it became popular because it did one thing, and did it well. It was a tool for students in tertiary educational institutions to keep in touch with their friends. The first time I tried to join it I wasn’t allowed. Retired staff members of such institutions simply weren’t eligible.

Then Facebook opened to the general public. It had some uses, but it also had some severe shortcomings. One of the shortcomings was the idea of “networks”, which worked fine when it was limited to academic institutions — one could limit a group discussion forum to members of a particular institution, for example. But when it was opened to the general public, the concept needed to be rethought, and it hasn’t been. If, for example, one wants to have a group for the South Africa network, members of the Pretoria network can’t join it The Pretoria network should be part of the South Africa network, the smaller being part of the large, but on Facebook it isn’t.

Some people got carried away by Facebook. Some members of the rec.arts.books newsgroup on Usenet migrated to a Facebook group called “The prancing half-wits”, which deprived the newsgroup of some of its best contributors, and made much of their discussion inaccessible. As a medium newsgroups are far better for interactive communication than web forums (even though they were originally intended for one-to-many communication rather than many-to-many), because navigating to the forum on Facebook is a much more complicated process, and there are too many distractions along the way. I check newsgroups at least once a day, but the Facebook forums I look at once in six months, if that often.

But the rot really set in when Facebook allowed third-party applications.

This diffused things too much, and instead of making it easier to keep in touch, made it more difficult. For example, there are several apps for recording books you have read. The result is that you may have several bookloving friends, each using a different app. Instead of keeping in touch, you are separated. But they will all invite you to join their app, so if you do, you would have to enter each book you read six times. I gave up. I’d rather use Bibliophil or LibraryThing for that. Their approach is to do one thing and do it well, rather than Facebook’s clumsy and cumbersome “one size fits all”.

Others are also jumping on to the social networking bandwagon. Plaxo, which was a synchronised address book tool, has expanded into a social network, and may do it better than Facebook, though their interface is a bit slow. But if there are too many social networks, things are likely to become just as diffused as when there are too many books applications on one of them. I still prefer, though it didn’t take off like Facebook.

And for interactive communications, mailing lists and newsgroups still remain more effective than web forums, whether hosted by Facebook or anyone else. Even blogs are better in some ways for that. It’s much easier to find what people have posted on blogs than to find what they have posted in Facebook forums.

Social blogrolling – controversy on MyBlogLog

There’s been a bit of a tempest in a tea cup over a new feature of MyBlogLog — the ability to send messages to all one’s community members.

Some, like Meg in Australia, have complained that it is spam, but it seems that those who are complaining have joined hundreds of communities that they have no real interest in.

And I disagree. I think being able to send a message to all one’s community members (provided it is not overdone) is a good thing. Perhaps some will abuse the facility by sending spam, but then the answer is simple — leave their community. But a message once a quarter or even once a month should not be a problem.

I think “community” means that one desires to interact with others in the community. If people join communities on MyBlogLog and similar social networking sites, they ought to be interested in the topics of the community and in interaction with the members. If they do not want to communicate, they should not have joined the community in the first place.

In my blogs I have tried to make it clear what I am interested in and what I blog about, and I do that in MyBlogLog too. I hope that people who are interested in similar things will read my blogs and comment, and join my communities in MyBlogLog so we can keep in touch, and so I will be reminded to look at their blogs occasionally.

But some people seem to join communities just to see how many they can collect. I have difficulty in understanding the motivation for joining a community where one has no interest in anything the community is about. If you join a football club, and have no interest in football, why did you join? If you then object to receiving the club newsletter, don’t complain to the post office about the club sending you the newsletter, just resign from the club.

I have the same problem with people on social networking sites like MySpace, whom I’ve never heard of, saying “I want to be your friend”. If they’ve read and commented on my blog, or we’ve discussed things in a newsgroup, or exchanged e-mail or snail mail, or communicated in some other way, fine. But just to be a “friend” with no discernable common interest with me makes no sense.

One of the problems of electronic networking is that it can lead to communication without community. But the sudden demand from people on MyBlogLog for community without communication is far more difficult to understand.

Get a life!

I’ve often seen the comment “Get a life” on electronic discussion forums. It usually indicates that the person who writes it disagrees with what someone else has said, but can’t be bothered to get to grips with the issues, so it has become a meaningless cliche.

But here is an indication that at one time the phrase may have had a real meaning: Changing the World (and other excuses for not getting a proper job…): Get a First Life!

Virtual friendships

John Smulo has recently commented in his blog on “virtual friendships” — people one “meets” electronically, but does not meet in the flesh. I plead guilty to referring to John Smulo as “my friend” even though I’ve only known him electronically, and haven’t known him long.

Today I was looking through some of my old hardcopy journals, and was moved to pray for an old friend I haven’t seen for over 20 years. Then I decided to do a web search for him, and found an e-mail address, and sent him a message. Maybe he won’t want to be in touch, but I think it works both ways. One can keep in touch with people electronically even though they have moved away physically. An d it works the other way too — I’ve met people electronically, and later met them in the flesh, and that has enriched our electronic conversation.

In any given physical neighbourhood, it is sometimes hard to find people with whom one shares common interests, and electronic communication makes it possible, at least theoretically, to communicate with such people unhampered by geography.

It often doesn’t work l;ike that, though. People one really wants to discuss ideas with say that they “Don’t have time for e-mail”. Old friends move away and don’t really want to keep in touch, perhaps they’ve made new friends in their new place. So electronic friendship s come and go, just like ones in the flesh. In the mean time, however, I think one learns something from all of them.

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