Controlling your information streams – don’t call me maybe?

Using the TelephoneI have a love/hate relationship with my phone. That is:

I love my iPhone.

I hate my office phone.

My office phone lurks on the corner of my desk, where it is tethered by cables. It sits there and collects messages for me, so that when I come back to my office a notification (a little red light) will tell me there are messages. Not how many, not who from, no headlines I can quickly scan, not when it was sent. It’s notification is binary – either there are or aren’t messages for me.

Interaction design?
To personalise how I interact with other people and its information stream (voicemail) through this tool, I have to use voice menus and numbered buttons. The menus are read out in a language that also uses English words, but which has randomly assigned meanings to those words, eg robot voice: “For personal options…”

To aggravate matters, the menus are read out very slowly. Each menu seems to have 4-5 options. But seeing as the “human brain can only hold about seven pieces of information for less than 30 seconds”thank you, Dr John Medina, and I usually already have 3 things in there, I’m a little short on space. The phone doesn’t give me the ability to visually scan the options, and so I often need to sit through them 4x. The first two go’s I try to decipher its code (is “personal messaging options” the function that will let me record my outgoing voicemail message?). The last two go’s are to confirm my choice, as I know that pressing the wrong option, usually means go back to Start.

Curate & Remix?
Information curation from this tool’s information stream is also awkward. I can’t forward its information to Evernote or my calendar. I can’t copy & paste it to another tool. I need to transfer the information one handed to a post-it, from which I will then later type it in my calendar or Evernote. Or more usually it will join a pile of other data transcribed in this manner. The tool’s in-built archive expunges records after an undetermined but limited time.

On those rare occasions that I do sit through this process to actually listen to messages, I find that the system precedes each message with a lot of preamble: date, time, read out phone number – digit – pause – by – pause – digit! -before giving me the main act. And then the actual messages have a very low hit rate of usefulness for various reasons:
– too much background noise
– someone speaks too fast/high/low/soft/
– “Oh I thought you’d be there. I’ll get you on your mobile/email/Twitter/Facebook/at next meeting.”
– “I’ve also sent you an email about this…”
– “Hi this is Victor from UberAwesome. We are an eLearning production company…”

So basically, I’ve come to see my office voicemail as a very poor information & communication tool. It is infinitely less usable than other tools that provide me with information streams and artefacts I can remix: email, Twitter, Facebook, Yammer, Skype chat, Google chat, etc etc. And infinitely less portable and customisable than my iPhone.

It’s definitely you…
Because of our strained working relationship due to different working styles, I have been displaying avoidance behaviour towards my phone. It accusingly blinks its light at me but I ignore it. And unfortunately this means that on occasion, I have missed messages from people who do use this communication tool. This is not good.

How to manage this stream?

There are several solutions to this problem.

I could set it up to forward all calls to my iPhone. But my iPhone is my personal number, with my personal account. Also I don’t tend to answer calls from unknown numbers, choosing to let my iPhone voicemail be my hurdle requirement for unknown callers – usually sales people from banks/ insurance companies. All my social contacts and many colleagues are in my Contacts list and would be recognised, promptly answered and warmly greeted. But work phone numbers would not.

I could build a habit (it only takes 21 days right?) to check my voicemail every morning first thing when I walk into my office. But I won’t. Because it simply is an inferior communication tool where the amount of effort required to retrieve, use and manage its information, is disproportional to that information’s value. And I “hates” it. (Yes, petulance.)

Netsmart & mindful
So as I was preparing my workspace for next year this week, I decided to take a leaf out of Howard Rheingold’s book, Netsmart, and practise mindfulness. I am giving up on my office voicemail, and I’m telling people about it. I am cutting it out of my life. I’ve begun gently – changed my outgoing message to say I can’t answer the phone, and the best way to reach me is to send me an email (all work contacts have my email and for external people I spell it out in the message) or to text me on my mobile. but next year I will change that to something more emphatic.

So you can text me, email me, tweet me, Facebook me, Google+ me, Yammer me, Skype me, iMessage me, iPhone me, Whatsapp me, Viber me but don’t call me maybe?

Which information stream will you cut out of your life?


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5 thoughts on “Controlling your information streams – don’t call me maybe?

  1. Donna says:

    Totally agree with you Joyce. My pet peeve was when someone would hang up after the beep, and all the message contained was the click of the phone being hung up! Also got rid of my home phone for same reasons, who needs a landline these days?

  2. Trish McCluskey says:

    Great post Joyce and echoes my sentiments on the issue. When I do manage to answer desk anchored calls it usually results in a plea to call me back on my mobile as it would be inappropriate for me to discuss the purpose of the call within full hearing range of the open plan office – another not well thought through innovation in HE!!

  3. ingermewburn says:

    Definitely email! But I don’t think I have a choice in that one. I will be taking your advice on the phone thing in my new job though! Start how you mean to go on and all that :-)

  4. Jennie Swann says:

    That has to be my new year’s resolution! I’d taken a shortcut and simply forwarded all office calls to my mobile. But if I miss one and the caller fails to listen to my message about better ways of contacting me then all I get is a missed call from work. 2,000 academic staff, but which one???

  5. […] Enter the flight numbers and booking reference in the phone calendar entry at the time you book them. This saves hunting frantically for paperwork or emails at the gate. Oh – and don’t list your desk phone in the university directory unless you want to be fiddling endlessly with voice mail. Better still read this great post by Joyce Seitzinger and don’t list it at all. […]

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