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.