Goodbye to the telephone

AT&T’s new rates signals the end of voice minutes, and with it sounds the death knell for the term we used to refer to the devices we use to make calls, variants of which include “telephone” or the “phone”.

Throughout the current US market almost all of the main operators have now eliminated any reference to voice minutes from their rates, instead simply offering users unlimited texting and voice calls. The only way to find rates based on voice minutes these days is to look for cheap offers for the elderly. Spain is about to follow this trend, but for the moment only one of the three main operators has done so.

For many years now the devices that we have on us at all times during waking hours have undergone an evolutionary process that while largely predictable is nonetheless interesting: from the early years when they were still, strictly speaking, cellphones, designed and used for voice calls; to the current generation of terminals with huge screens designed largely for the visualization and accessing of data of all kind. Devices that we hold against our ears only part of the time, and that we increasingly use with our hands and eyes. This trend was set, as in so many other cases, by young people, who were the first to stop making telephone calls en masse and to do so only for emergencies, a practice that is spreading rapidly throughout the rest of the population. These days, the only people who say, “I only use my cellphone for making calls” are the elderly or diehard Luddites, and it is of course ever harder to find models limited to this use.

The way we communicate has changed drastically, and continues to evolve. A significant percentage of our communication is now channeled through asynchronous or semi-synchronous media such as email, texting, or—above all—through instant messaging, which in turn has taken on many of the functions of synchronous communication. At the same time, both clients and operators are abandoning channels dedicated to voice, and are converting this data traffic through a range of VoIP, freeing up this valuable part of the spectrum for the increasingly important data traffic. Data consumption is growing ever faster, and the deals on offer are barely able to meet demand.

One outcome of this is that the thing we carry with us almost all the time is no longer, properly speaking, a telephone; it has metamorphosed into a small computer: a process that has taken place remarkably quickly, and that in the United States, has now definitively arrived.