In the July 1987 edition of The National Geographic, there’s an AT&T ad that claims, “Suddenly, there are 250 million more computers in America”.
The ad announced the arrival of a cardboard template that when placed on one of their push button desk phones (one of those old fashioned, beige business phones that were as heavy as a bowling ball) it would “release the considerable computer power latent in a common telephone.” The cardboard template provided instructions on how to operate their Unified Messaging service.
The ad discussed Bell Laboratories’ attempt to merge voice and data networks and how Unified Messaging was one of the byproducts.
The ad claims that Unified Messaging allows a business to unify all their data and voice communications, and that business people don’t have to be at their PCs in their offices to access electronic mail. Instead, they would have access from any phone, anywhere.
AT&T was hoping that people would use their voicemail box as a receptacle for their electronic mail. What ended up happening? People are more likely to receive voicemails in their email inboxes than to listen to emails via their voicemail services.
In 1987, data was transmitted across the public switched telephone network. Internet speeds were abysmal and voice communication was crystal clear. Overtime, sophisticated data networks, like MPLS, were developed, bandwidth became more prevalent and internet speeds improved dramatically. During that time, the quality of voice communication transmitted over a data network went from very poor to rivaling traditional voice communication over a analog business phone line.
Are data networks winning the battle over traditional voice networks because they’re a better infrastructure to transmit across? That’s probably true but there’s another reason data networks are prevailing.
The internet has allowed people to remain anonymous in their business dealings. It’s possible to buy an insurance policy, do all your holiday shopping or order a pizza without leaving your home or speaking to another human being. More and more, people seem to prefer communicating through email and text messaging versus phone calls and voicemail.
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How often have you seen two people sitting across from each other at a restaurant, busy on their phones, text messaging other people? Are people using the self-checkout at the grocery store because it’s quicker or because they’d rather not converse with a grocery clerk?
In business, it used to be if you wanted to speak to someone, you picked up the phone and called them. Now, calls are scheduled, and that’s only after the parties gave up trying to make their points through email.
Is the phone call going the way of the fax? If you agree, don’t call; just type your comment below. If you disagree you can email me.