The Death of the Telephone
By James Grahame
We didn't know it at the time, but telephone call quality peaked in the mid 1990s. Many ordinary folk still relied on landlines, and computer-based calling services like Skype were a decade away from widespread acceptance. We grumbled about the lack of competion and high prices, but at least we could make decent calls using our telco's recently upgraded digital switching systems.
Fast forward fifteen years and things have changed for the worse. Sure, we all have data-enabled mobile phones that can Google, surf and play Angry Birds. Services like Google Voice and Skype allow us to make inexpensive (often free) calls through a computer or iPod. It's all wonderful... until you actually try to talk to someone.
Latency, compression artifacts and dropped calls were once relatively rare. Now, it's commonplace for me use Google Voice while the person on the other end struggles to understand me on their Skype-equipped iPod. The audio quality often rivals the best sci-fi movie special effects -- slathered with digital noise, misframed packets and disconcerting delays. The urge to end every sentence with "over" is overwhelming.
A friendly call from my mom the other night made me realize how far things have slipped. She called our landline from her home phone -- a rare thing these days. The call was crystal clear, artifact free and enjoyable. Just the way things used to be. Over.