Monday, April 2, 2012

You're Using Your Cell Phone Wrong

If necessity is the mother of invention, mild aggravation is probably its drunk uncle. In that spirit, I think I've finally found my ticket to the big time, because my mild aggravation at seeing people misuse a very common device has motivated me to invent something, and it is my hope that it will carry me to the kind of life where I pour champagne on underwear models on the hood of my Stutz Bearcat. (My hopes that this blog will get me there are quickly fading.)

It drives me nuts and I see it all the time. This does not seem to be very complex technology, but it seems to have stumped almost everyone who uses it. I refer of course to hands-free earpieces for cell phones -- the wired kind, not the Bluetooth kind, which no mirror-owning adult has any excuse for using.

This invention is simple, elegant, and effective: an earphone on a long wire connected to your phone. About six inches down the wire, a microphone dangles just below your chin. I bought one of these for my first cell phone about ten years ago, and (Bluetooth notwithstanding) the design has not evolved much since then. But that doesn't mean people have figured out how to use them, as can commonly be seen with the white earbuds that come with iPhones.

Other than being white, and having two earpieces rather than just one, these things are pretty much the same as the one I bought in 2000, and they work even better. Here's how: 

Fig. 1 -- Correct hands-free usage.

As you see here, the microphone hangs just below the chin, more than close enough for the wearer's speech to be heard. This allows the wearer to put the phone in his or her pocket and use both hands for whatever two-handed activity they might imagine -- shuffling a deck of Tarot cards, or solving a Rubik's Cube, or defusing a rogue nuclear device -- without so much as a pause in their breathless recap of what Kevin said to Courtney in front of the bar.

When I use mine (and at the risk of immodesty, I submit that I do use mine correctly) no one ever says they can't hear me, or can't understand me, and I hear them just fine as well. Which is why I can't understand why so many people use their hands-free devices like this:
Fig. 2 -- Incorrect hands-free usage.

Here the wearer not only holds the phone in their hand, thus negating the "hands free" part of the hands-free device, but he also holds the little microphone up to his mouth, so he is actually using BOTH HANDS. I'm not very good at math, but that seems like backward progress.

Troubling also because drivers using cell phones are now bound by law to use hands-free devices while they drive, and if as many of them are doing it wrong (fig. 2) as the people walking around, I am never getting on the road again.

I assume (but can't be certain) that the reason people hold the microphone up to their mouth is that they don't trust that they will be heard if the microphone is more than a quarter inch from their lower lip. And I assume that the reason people hold the phone in their other hand is simply that we have come to a point in our society when our phones are our most prized possessions. We cannot bear not to hold them. They are little fetish objects. I remember when I first got my iPhone 4: I literally could not put it down. Even if I wasn't using it, I turned it over and over in my hands, feeling the pleasingly cool, smooth glass casing.

Fortunately, I have figured out a way to use a cell phone that allows the user to both talk directly into the microphone, and to keep the phone in their hands, which can be seen in figure 3:
Fig. 3 -- My solution.

As you can see, while one hand holds the phone up to the user's face, the other hand is left free to do whatever one-handed activities they might imagine -- meditating with Baoding balls, petting stray wolves, spray-painting lawn furniture -- without any pause in their breathless recap of Courtney's witty retort to Kevin in front of the bar. Admittedly, not quite hands-free, but certainly a big step forward from where we are now! You might reasonably ask how my innovation of removing the hands-free device from the phone is going to make me enough money to buy lunch, much less pour champagne on underwear models, but rest assured I've retained the services of a patent attorney and he insists that I'm only a few blocks away from Easy Street. Further research is needed, though, so watch this space for where you can send your capital (most likely Kickstarter) and get in on the ground floor of the Next Big Thing in telecommunications! 

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