I Am Joe’s Blog:

November 18, 2004 • 6:30 PM

Hands-Free Phones

I get annoyed as everyone else at people who use cell phones inappropriately—you know, during movies, while driving, or what-have-you. But lately I’ve been noticing an increase in one particular inappropriate use that baffles me. Yesterday, I got stuck in a waiting room for some time with a guy who simply could not bear to spend one minute in silence. He made and received calls continuously for at least a half hour, cutting deals, making plans, and basically involving everyone else present in the running of his business. He spoke that strange dialect MBAnglish on his phone, which in itself is quite annoying. But what truly baffled me was that because of the “hands-free” headset he was wearing, he had to use both of his hands to talk on his phone.

Here’s the picture: There’s an earbud in your ear connected by a thin cable to your phone. Inline, about six inches away from the earbud, is the microphone. Gravity and human anatomy being what they are, this microphone, left to its own devices, will hang inconveniently far from the wearer’s mouth. So everyone I’ve ever seen using one of these contraptions holds the microphone up to their mouths with one hand, while carrying the phone in the other. Thus: the two-handed “hands-free” phone.

Somehow, no one seems to notice the irony in this, the fact that you could simply ditch the headset and in so doing free up at least one of your hands. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people using these devices in this way, and I just don’t get it. If your hands aren’t free, then it’s not “hands-free.” But it seems that in some bizarre way, the users of these devices are convinced that they make it easier to talk on the phone, when in fact they make it harder.

Surely some of the blame rests with manufacturers of “hands-free” headsets, who should realize that the mouth is not located on the side of the neck. But people keep buying the things, so there’s little incentive to stop making them. On the other hand, a good bit of the blame rests with users, who would probably (in some cases at least) be pleasantly surprised to discover that the little microphone will actually pick up their voice just fine even if it’s not right in front of their mouth.

There are, of course, any number of headset designs that position the microphone closer to the mouth, many of which are even wireless. And you can set up most modern phones for voice dialing, enabling your cell phone to remain safely tucked in your pocket the whole time. Your hands could be free, they really could. But you have to take the first step. Let…go…of…the…microphone.