the decay of lying

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Alexander Graham Bell


Alexander Graham Bell
Well, he knew darned well
That he could find the only way
To talk across the USA
Telephone, telephone
Never be on your own,
Many, many years ago
He started something with his first
"Hello, hello"

The Sweet 1972



And what he started was no end of trouble.


“Hi, I’m afraid I’m not able to take your call at the moment. The implication I hope this conveys is that I’m out doing something very exciting. My life is full and varied as I’m sure you appreciate. I am undoubtedly very busy – certainly sufficiently busy that I don’t want my time taken up by your call. Please leave a message after the tone. Or... send me an email... or you could contact my diary service... or you could perhaps try reaching me through facebook. In due course there is every chance I shall get back to you, when I need a bored moment filling, when I take a break from perpetuating the illusion of my hectic lifestyle. For a guide as to when that might be don’t hesitate to follow me on Twitter where I shall be sure to keep my avid readers up to date with all of my movements....”


God forbid that I shouldn’t be easily contactable at any moment of the day. Or, more to the point, that I shouldn’t be able to immediately tell the world of the minutiae of my life. How I struggled, for so many years: I had so much to tell, and so many eager for any little insight into my world. The guilt I felt, knowing that it was my responsibility to share my life openly with a deserving public but how could I satisfy you all... there simply wasn’t the time. And then Facebook came along to save us all. (Give me strength...)


I tried to play along for a while, join that online “networky” world. Somehow I just didn’t seem to have the flair for it, or the necessary delusional state that tells me other people are really interested in reading all this stuff. I never seemed to come up with anything beyond “is currently updating his facebook status.” Others have applied themselves far more diligently and effectively: At a glance I can now see exactly who “is enjoying a nice cup of tea,” “is looking forward to a well earned rest,” “is working far too hard....” I naturally consider myself fortunate to be blessed with this new found knowledge. And with a little bit of effort there is good sport to be had with Facebook. The social aspect of this social networking site has been twisted and corrupted giving rise to a whole new pastime: “Status Update” Poker. Here’s how it works: Seemingly innocuous comments are used as a vehicle for conveying exactly how illustrious your career is for the benefit, and ideally annoyance, of your friends. The bald statement of your schedule is regarded as rather unsporting, instead statements should be phrased so as to give the impression that the regular work, bouts of foreign travel and money pouring in are a considerable inconvenience and something you hope your friends don’t have to suffer because “really darling, it’s all just too much... how I would love to just have a day off and catch up on Bargain Hunt... you’re so lucky to have all that time to yourself, you really are...” If work accidentally gets mentioned purely as a by-product of another topic, so much the better... that is the way of the true Updater.


So, that’s the outline of the whole thing; now for an absolute classic from the Facebook archives. Two top-notch participants here, conducting their conversation in the full glare of the Facebook Wall.... a high risk strategy where winner takes all:


“Hey, I’m having birthday drinks on Wednesday, I’d love it if you could come along. (I’ve only invited 3000 of my closest facebook friends.)” Opens the bidding there with an attention seeking birthday drink.


“Great. Where, what time?” Sees him with an enthusiastic yet non-committal response.


“Lamb and Flag, going straight there after rehearsal, 5:30 onwards.” Oh and the work card played very early... that’s a good move.


“I’ve got a show, so wouldn’t be able to be there until later but it’s only just round the corner - I’d be there around ten and we could drink the night away – would be lovely to catch up.” Oh and that’s a wonderful response... took the rehearsal quite in her stride and immediately raised him a West End show... he’ll do well to come back from that.


“No drinking late into the night for me I’m afraid. Gonna have to make it an early one as I’m flying to Spain at six Thursday morning.” Oh that’s incredible stuff... what a knockout blow... a three week European tour. Delivered with perfection and that’s hit her right between the eyes. Perhaps she should have seen the warning signs when he mentioned the rehearsal so early on... but there’s nothing she can do now. That’s a very impressive victory for the defending champ...


As improbable as it sounds, I can remember a time when the telephone was nothing more than a simple tool for communication. I felt no great emotional attachment to it. I didn’t covet a new phone every 12 months. I knew where I was with the phone... principally because it was tied to the wall. And then we went mobile and now your phone is a lifestyle choice, a statement piece, a diary, an mp3 player, a computer... oh, and when mixed with alcohol, an accident waiting to happen. Never mind leaving your car keys at home if you’re planning to have a skinful. That iPhone really ought to be left with a responsible adult - the designated dialler.


With the new generation of smart phones, we’re all in contact all the time. Communication – or at least attempts at it – has become instantaneous. And that’s the problem. The action has become effortless, almost thoughtless and that lack of thought can have a nasty habit of continuing over into the messages we type. The smartness of the phone does little to compensate for the idiocy and alcohol-driven decision making of the owner. At just the touch of a button the smart phone will happily aid us in a drive towards professional and personal suicide by sending our ill-considered thoughts out into the ether – the strength of the signal from phone to network being considerably more reliable than the signal from brain to rapidly texting thumb – often resulting in the sort of social mess that can take a lot more than the application of a digit to the delete key to clear up. Not my idea of smart.


If a phone was really smart it should step in to save us from ourselves. That familiar post-drink certainty needs to be put to the test. As you stab at the “send” key an alternate window could light up requiring the user to answer a series of basic questions to ascertain that they are in full command of their faculties before the message is sent. You know:



What’s the sixth letter of the alphabet?

What’s nine times seven?

Are you out of your fucking mind as well as your skull texting them again with your declarations of undying love?     

That kinda thing.


And whilst I’m at it, I expect a good deal more from predictive text than its enthusiastic but rarely accurate guesses at just what it is that I’m trying to type. “If you press the ‘send’ button now, you could live to regret it.” That’d be proper predictive text.


Oh yeah... the telephone and love – that is an exhilarating combination. For all the many and varied ways of contacting one another now... the telephone is still the ‘biggy’. A slightly nervy text is one thing but that’s nothing compared to the near paralysis felt as you listen to the phone ringing down the line. Will they pick up? Oh please let it go to answer phone so that you can deliver that carefully rehearsed spontaneous message... “Hello?” Shit. You’d better say something quick. This is your chance. This is one occasion where your silence isn’t gonna speak volumes.


There exists in all potential romances a telephone pact. The number is obtained on an innocent pretext but once offered up there is no going back. The mutual hope and understanding of putting it to more intimate uses in future grows. The cherished telephone number is one of those vital statistics: 32, 24, 35, 01823 764 476. Treat it with care or it could be the last time that call gets answered.


D’you know, perhaps, on balance, all things considered, in future it would be wiser to wait for you to call me. I expect I’ll get back to you pretty quickly...