Friday, June 8, 2007

Digital Delay

I'm not going to research this, so anything I say might be wrong or false (that applies to me pretty much all the time).

Cell phones have a problem, and as far as I can tell, nobody is talking about it. It's not a big problem, but I think it's making the world just a touch ruder than it was. And no, I'm not talking about people using the phones in public restrooms. I'm talking about the digital delay.

Aside about the bathrooms: when the guy in the stall next to me answers his phone - or worse, makes a call - I always want to yell out "He's in the bathroom!" - I've not had the guts to do it yet. If I ever do, I'll let you know how many stitches I need.

When you talk into a cellphone, the audio is compressed digitally to take less bandwidth (time) on the cellular system. The data can be transmitted about 8 times faster that way, so eight conversations can share the same "line" with no interference. But, since the phone doesn't know what you're going to say until after you say it, there has to be a slight delay while compressing the data. It is a very short delay.

Try this: While having a phone conversation where at least one of you is using a digital cell phone (the delay is doubled if you're both using digital cell phones), One of you counts to ten, the other joins in at three and counts along precisely with the other. The first counter will notice a gap between when he says a number, and when he hears the other person say a number, even though the second person hears them at precisely the same time. This illustrates the delay.

The problem is this: after years of having conversations, we have developed a mechanism for handling the situation that occurs when both parties start to talk at the same time. That mechanism no longer works, because now, if both parties start to talk at the same time, they each hear themselves starting first... and believe the other person rude for continuing to talk.

I have two proposals to fix this, and you will notice that neither of them is a new law:

a. Never answer the phone, simply play "phone tag" using each other's voicemail to communicate. This increases the delay but eliminates the possibility of talking over each other.

2. Be rude at all other times as well, soon no one will want to talk to you, and there will be no delay.

I recognize that more proposals may be needed before putting this dastardly digital delay dilemma to rest.

- Trevor.

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