Wednesday, July 09, 2003

I have a Motorola V60 cell phone that is about six months old. It's a small phone, meaning small batteries, and every two days or so it needs to be recharged. It's "low battery" signal is a full-volume "bleep-bloop" sound emitted every two minutes. It's a very loud sound that you cannot turn off -- loud enough that if the phone is downstairs on the kitchen counter and you are up in your bedroom with the door shut, you can hear it clearly. The phone will start complaining about a low battery approximately 18 hours before it dies.

Since the bleep-bloop sound is loud and unmutable, you can imagine that there are situations where a V60 phone can be very annoying. For example, if you are in a restaurant or in a meeting and the phone decides that it is time for charging, your only way to shut it up is to turn it off. But what if you are expecting a call?

Last night I had left my phone in my pants pocket when I undressed, and I left my pants in the closet. At 2AM the phone decided that it wanted to be charged, and it started the "bleep-bloop" thing. The phone woke me up with the first bleep-bloop, and then it's like a dripping faucet -- the only thing you can possibly do is get up, find the phone and turn it off. But in my sleepy haze, I could not figure out where the phone was. It only bleeps every 2 minutes, and the bleep is not long enough to zero in on a location. Eventually I had to find another phone, call my V60 phone so it would ring and then track down the ringing phone. So I am up at 2AM, now other people are up as well, the dogs in the neighborhood are barking and so on. All because a cell phone thinks that its batteries need to be charged at 2AM.

Why do we want devices to be this intrusive? What we need is a "polite device" initiative, where all of these electronic devices start to understand basic rules of etiquette. For example, in the case of a cell phone with low batteries, the basic logic could be, "if it's 2AM, people are generally asleep so don't bleep." Then there could be a set of menu options around the low battery signal. Such as:Even better, why can't you shout at the phone? Like: You could take this a little further and make the phone even more polite. For example, the phone could have a menu option where you tell the phone that you don't want to be disturbed, unless it is an emergency, between the hours of X:00 PM and Y:00 AM. If a call comes in at 3AM, the phone answers it and says, "The party you are calling {Marshall Brain} has asked not to be woken up unless it is an emergency. If this is an emergency, please dial 1 2 3 on your keypad to put the call through. Otherwise, please hold on the line to leave a voice mail." Why not? These devices now contain powerful CPUs and megabytes of memory (see my June 23 post) -- why can't they behave in a way that's helpful and non-intrusive to their owners?

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