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Sunday Times - - WORDS & STARS -

HE first story I ever had pub­lished con­tained a spell­ing mis­take. In­stead of “voice”, I wrote “voyse”. Be­fore you throw away the paper in dis­gust, let me add that I was five years old at the time and the ju­nior con­tri­bu­tions to the school mag­a­zine were scanned — or what­ever they did be­fore there were scan­ners — and printed in their orig­i­nal form. Still, it ran­kles.

“Voice” is an in­ter­est­ing word. It comes from the Latin vo­cem, of which the nom­i­na­tive form is vox. Re­porters for broad­cast me­dia still speak of gath­er­ing “vox pops”, which many think is a modern term mean­ing pop-up sound bites for news re­ports and the like, but is in fact from a Me­dieval Latin phrase, vox pop­uli vox Dei, mean­ing “the voice of the peo­ple is the voice of God”.

The voice of the peo­ple is, I fear, in grave dan­ger. With the pro­lif­er­a­tion of chan­nels through which we can com­mu­ni­cate with oth­ers, the sound of the spo­ken word has be­come in­creas­ingly rare (ex­cept on the Gau­train, which in my case means al­ways sit­ting op­po­site a per­son loudly shar­ing per­sonal de­tails with the en­tire car­riage on his/her cell­phone).

Fi­nan­cial Times colum­nist Lucy Kell­away re­cently pub­lished an ar­ti­cle on the threat­ened ex­tinc­tion of of­fice chat­ter. She blamed this tragedy on the in­ter­net, say­ing: “It has made con­ver­sa­tion ob­so­lete. E-mail taught us long ago that it is eas­ier to type out a mes­sage to some­one sit­ting 10 yards away than to stag­ger out of our chairs and talk to them.”

This has clearly got much worse of late, but ver­bal con­ver­sa­tion has been slowly dy­ing since Dan­ish tele­phone en­gi­neer Valde­mar Poulsen patented his “tele­gra­phone” in 1898. In­ven­tion-re­searcher Mary Bel­lis presents this “in­ge­nious ap­pa­ra­tus for record­ing tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions” in an es­say pub­lished on the web­site ThoughtCo.com.

The tele­gra­phone was the great-grand­fa­ther of what we now call voice­mail. Af­ter it came sev­eral im­proved and up­dated ver­sions of the an­swer­ing ma­chine, un­til in 1979 a Dal­las busi­ness­man named Gor­don Matthews ap­plied for a patent for the first com­mer­cial voice mail sys­tem.

It did not take long for “voice­mail” to be­come one word. And it has taken less than half that time for it to be­come en­dan­gered. How many times have you called a per­son only to have their recorded voice mes­sage tell you to “please send an SMS”?

I do it too. If some­one calls to of­fer a story on the lat­est ap­ple-peeler, eye­shadow or swim­ming con­test for ham­sters, I’ll ask them to send an email in­stead of go­ing into de­tail on the phone. I could prob­a­bly deal with it faster and more fi­nally by hear­ing them out, but such is our con­di­tion­ing that we don’t pay proper at­ten­tion to any­thing ex­cept words on a screen.

Not only do some users ac­tively dis­cour­age the leav­ing of a spo­ken mes­sage, even those who do al­low for the op­tion don’t al­low you to say much.

GEM­INI (May 21 – June 20)

Some se­ri­ous changes are needed. So swal­low your pride, and apol­o­gise. Fri­day’s full moon of­fers the chance to be­gin again with ev­ery­thing. There’ll be new ideas and a pi­o­neer­ing edge to your spirit. Fear is the only thing hold­ing you back. Not to men­tion a pe­cu­liar will­ing­ness to let other peo­ple run your life. Make a list of re­quire­ments and stay fo­cused. You know you want to. And you can.

CAN­CER (June 21 – Jul 22)

The crowds are in the mood to be im­pressed, so try some­thing new and ex­cit­ing. And that doesn’t mean step­ping out in your lime-green monokini ei­ther. The plan­ets were hop­ing for some­thing more cere­bral and tri­umphant. Even so, such a move will cer­tainly in­volve let­ting go of some of your stodgier no­tions. But that’s okay. The stakes are high enough to make the risk worth­while.

LEO (Jul 23 – Aug 22)

Friends play a vi­tal role in keep­ing you ob­jec­tive and vaguely sane. So spend as much time as you can with the sup­port­ive and in­spir­ing. New op­tions will come up at work. Take your time be­fore leap­ing into the fray. Some of those temp­ta­tions sound bet­ter than they look. Keep your head, ask for ad­vice, and pack your ego away. Then take an­other look at the ar­ray of fas­ci­nat­ing op­tions. There’s hardly time to state your name and of­fer an opin­ion on the weather be­fore the ro­bot says: “Your record­ing time is up.”

There are some ad­van­tages, I sup­pose. Many years ago I made the ac­quain­tance of an aspir­ing ac­tor who had too much time on his hands and a great af­fec­tion for James Joyce. He might, in fact, be the only per­son I’ve ever met who wasn’t ly­ing when he said he had read Ulysses from start to fin­ish.

This per­son used to en­joy call­ing me when he knew I would be out, and read­ing pas­sages of Joyce over the phone un­til the tape on the an­swer­ing ma­chine ran out. I had one of those sub­stan­dard ma­chines that would not al­low you to delete a mes­sage un­til it had been played, which means I have prob­a­bly heard — if not read — more of Ulysses than is nec­es­sar­ily healthy.

Progress is progress and as long as peo­ple com­mu­ni­cate it prob­a­bly doesn’t re­ally mat­ter how they do it, but speak­ing does have one enor­mous ad­van­tage over typ­ing — no one has any idea when you make a spell­ing mis­take. LS

VIRGO (Aug 23 – Sep 22)

Your bat­tered lit­tle psy­che needs at­ten­tion and it’s time to get help. Find a ther­a­pist you can gel with and make some ap­point­ments. You’re prob­a­bly also won­der­ing what’s hap­pened to your so­cial life. Fret not. There’s a big part of you des­per­ately in need of soli­tude. So let your love life and your ca­reer take a back seat for a while. Make this about you — learn how to be of use to your­self.

LIBRA (Sep 23 – Oct 22)

Bub­bling un­der­cur­rents at home are sud­denly out in the open. There’s noth­ing wrong with an air­ing of views. Do try to hold the barbed re­marks though. If you’re feel­ing hurt, say so. Cru­elty is never a suit­able al­ter­na­tive. At work, the wheels of progress seem to have got stuck in the mud. Have pa­tience. The sun will shine again soon. And you’ll won­der what you were get­ting so hys­ter­i­cal about.

SCOR­PIO (Oct 23 – Nov 21)

You’re not ac­cus­tomed to wildly ir­ra­tional tem­per tantrums, and are al­most fright­ened when they ar­rive. In fact, if the truth were known, you have no idea what you’re so up­set about. So how about this: you wish you were more as­sertive, but lack the courage. In­stead you wait un­til you’re so frus­trated you lose your cool and start yelling. Not a good idea. Try some­thing else. You de­serve the best.

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