Stressed out by low-tech

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 March, 1994, 12:00am

IN these unsettling times, where change is the norm and new technologies are introduced at an increasingly alarming rate, there remains three immovable constants: death, taxes and the fact that everyone on the planet hates voice mail.

Voice mail, of course, is one of the unfortunate side effects of the brave new digital world - an ''advance'' that no one actually wants but that everyone is going to have to deal with at some point.

There are few things on this planet that can inspire the kind of hateful frustration that dealing with electronic voices generates in an instant. I have seen normally level-headed, family-value types disintegrate into blind rage as they are (ever-so-politely) passed from one computer-generated voice to the next.

Still, if this is the cost of the fantastically hyped ''information superhighway'', then so be it. I'll hold my temper and wait for the dial-up movies.

So I have made my peace with actual voice mail.

What is absolutely, utterly, completely and totally impossible to take in my stride is coming across a voice mail system while calling from a telephone system built during the Jurassic period.

There are large sections of the Hong Kong business community that use archaic PBXs that have pulse-dialing.

When you are talking in terms of fibre-optic digital superhighways, pulse phones are about as useful as two tin cans tied at the end of long bit of string. It works fine as long as you yell really loud.

Therein lies the downright stupidity of it all. Hong Kong has this amazing, 100 per cent digital network that offers everyone the kind of flexibility in communications (to say nothing of performance) that business executives could only dream about just adecade ago.

So much has been written about this ''superhighway'', I'm sure there are office managers who must think it is some kind of futuristic thing. In fact all they have to do is look and they will see that it is not only already there, but that Hongkong Telecom has brought it to their door step.

Stressed executives with an ulcer to feed should call a voice mail system from a pulse-dial (as opposed to digital-tone) telephone. Then sit back, put their feet up, and listen in frustration as the computer-generated voice gives them instructions on howto leave messages, or how to talk to an actual human.

Once they are satisfied that they have wasted enough time, they can live happily in the knowledge that they will never be able to contact that client/customer/friend/contact again, because they are out of the digital loop. WHILE on the subject, it is worth noting that for all the fabulous communications bandwidth of fibre-optic technology, even digital superhighways are going to have problems with traffic jams.

The financial news wire service Bloomberg provided an excellent, though unfortunate for them, example of this phenomenon.

Last Friday, about 35,000 Bloomberg monitors across the US came to a halt, following severe ''traffic'' congestion. It was caused by too many people trying to access and read the same scrap of news at the same time.

Readers might assume this was some kind of market-shaking development that had brokers and analysts glued to a screen with billions of dollars hanging in the balance. This was not the case.

Apparently, the demand was for a story that Oksana Baiul of Ukraine had pipped Nancy Kerrigan for the gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

Bloomberg said the traffic jam lasted only a few minutes before full service was restored.

The company has only had its system fall over once before as a result of too many people accessing a single story simultaneously.

Was that an earth-shattering financial story? Not quite.

In that instance, the financial community was accessing the first news summary of the Lorena Bobbitt case.