Starving to Stay Connected while Feasting on Smartphone Tech

by Barrett

How difficult is it to understand this?  It’s only a problem if the smiley face shows up instead as the letter ‘J.’  But this could be the least of your smartphone problems when it comes to keeping you feeling comfortably connected to the rest of your life. Especially when you’re away on a trip…

How difficult is it to understand this? It’s only a problem if the smiley face shows up instead as the letter ‘J.’ But this could be the least of your smartphone problems when it comes to keeping you feeling comfortably connected to the rest of your life. Especially when you’re away on a trip…



“It’s Barrett.”


“Your husband!”

“I can barely hear you.”

“We just landed.”


“Jus w ntd you kno tha I can’t  m do mak ak   fo bap   rit.
…I’ll tell you more later.”




Deep down, we all know the wonders of technology are only as good as the weakest link.

It wasn’t that long ago when mobile phones freed us from our homebound communications tether.
(But those sky high cost-per-minute charges… ouch!)

Eventually, the business model matured and then truly blossomed when phones morphed into email and texting machines.

Today, smartphones connect us in ways unimaginable only a few years back.
That you can talk with and sometimes see your loved ones from almost anywhere is two parsecs shy of science fiction.

Welcome to the World of Words
As smartphones developed each new trick, that capability quickly became the dominant one.

As a result, the near lost art of writing is experiencing an amazing renaissance.
It’s the new normal.
Why would you endure the rigors of a phone call when you can ‘more easily’ email or text someone?

It’s like we’ve already abandoned using the smartphone as a simple voice tool.

Ring, Ring
That said, I have long been a stubborn proponent of the seemingly old fashioned practice of calling up someone instead of forwarding along a bunch of alphanumeric characters and butchered words.

Plus, emotional context is inevitably absent throughout the act of texting.
Though the use of emoticons does help.

And think of all that incessant back and forth of an email chain, often over the course of hours. You’d likely arrive at the same facts as with a one-minute phone conversation.

And remember, your more highly evolved smartphone is not as limited as your grandfather’s Ma Bell indestructible monster. With mobile video enabled technologies like Skype and Apple’s FaceTime, you can enjoy the purity of non-verbal communication cues to help you stay totally in sync with your phone buddy. It’s almost like being in the same room.

Why wouldn’t you want to reach out and touch someone?

What Did You Just Say?
Well, if you don’t have access to a strong connection, that value proposition falls apart pretty quickly…

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how frustrating it is having a conversation with someone on a spotty cell connection.
Understanding one out of every three words just doesn’t cut it.
And adding video into the equation is immediately hopeless.
You get the first video frame or two, and that’s about it.
Then the call crashes.

Conversely, getting a simple text out into the ether over a mediocre connection feels downright glorious.

Keep it simple. Get it done.
The pleasantries can wait till next time…

In Search of Clarity of Communication on the Go
I’ve just returned from a short business trip to Charlotte, and I clearly stretched the limits of parts of AT&T’s cell phone network in North Carolina.

While waiting at the airport gate, I tried accessing
the voodoo of a Skype video call to watch my son open up a present.

I got about 30 seconds in, and the call tanked.
(though I did get a chance to see a few of his shouts of delight!)

So sure… you’re supposed to have a Wi-Fi connection for optimal Skype results, and I was working it with a mere three bars of signal.
(FaceTime doesn’t even try to operate without Wi-Fi.)
That it connected at all is probably a miracle.

But I also had trouble successfully reaching out
via simple voice communication.
When you can’t hear all of what your wife is saying over a few minute stretch, that quickly becomes a problem.
You can only intuit so much.
And you can only say, “what?” so many times.

So sure, one time I was travelling in the car rental shuttle bus, and my wife was driving down Route 95.
Maybe I should be satisfied the call worked as well as it did.

The Frustration-Free Moment
Our nationwide cellular networks still have their holes, even in metropolitan areas.
And calling from inside thick tall buildings or moving metal cars doesn’t help much.

The truth is… smartphones can’t yet mimic the magic of a Starfleet communicator on the prescient ‘Star Trek.’
(You can’t really have a crystal clear conversation from inside a Horta’s cave with your starship in standard orbit above Janus IV.)

There are limits…

So when my plane landed back at LaGuardia airport, I texted my wife instead of going for a quick phone chat from inside the cabin.

She texted back a question about a contractor’s phone number. I pulled up the contact on my iPhone and texted it to her.

When I received back a happy face emoticon 30 seconds later, I felt this rush of happiness.

After a series of generally splotchy phone connections to my family during my trip, I had finally found some Tech Zen:

  • Simplicity
  • Clarity
  • Accuracy

In this instance there was no need for a call.
Even if my iPhone had access to a strong signal, it would likely be marred by the competing sounds of the plane’s engines blended with the loud, nasally passenger in row 12B.

And trying for a video call…?
Forget about it!

Just because you can access the wonders of your tech, doesn’t mean you should.
Especially if your experience isn’t going to be so wondrous.

Just the Facts, Ma’am!
So finally, I’ve seen the light.
When you’re on the go, texting is the clear leader for straightforward communication.
(as long as you’re not driving!)

When you just care about getting the facts across, it takes all the frustration out of the equation.

Sure… you’ll lose all the personal touches of a phone call.
But how hard is it to interpret a smiley face emoticon?

Well, that is until it shows up as a letter ‘J.’

Agent J
Even the clarity of written communication is not totally immune to misinterpretation.

One morning, while on my trip, one of my colleagues walked over to me with a worried look as he stared at his iPhone. He explained that recently he had been receiving messages that ended mysteriously with an uppercase ‘J.’

He thought it was code for some kind of newfangled valediction.

I had no idea. So we took the question to the rest of the room, which included representation across several generations.
Nobody else had a clue either.

I half expected a Man in Black to walk up with the explanation before he pulled out his neuralyzer.

But we successfully Googled it instead.

Get this… The ‘J’ apparently originated as a smiley face.
But then it got lost in translation on its way to his smartphone.

Some mail clients get confused by a 🙂
and simply replace it by a ‘J’ instead.
It’s something about a smiley becoming an upper case ‘J’ in the ‘Winding’ character world.


My Mind to Your Mind
So really, there’s no foolproof way to ensure 100% accuracy when communicating with someone from any distance beyond 4-6 feet.
After that, all bets are off.

Technology can help through the precision of ‘word delivery’ to your phone, but only up to a point. It’s ironic that in a world overflowing with communications technologies, we often feel more disconnected than ever.

Until we master the Vulcan Mind Meld, we’ll have to struggle along as best we can.