I’ve been accused of being a “”telephone bigot”” and won’t deny it. In fact I’m proud of it.

I rarely place a call to a friend or stranger if I have an e-mail address to use instead. I won’t answer the phone if you call me unless you’ve made an appointment by e-mail ( my mother knows this — she’s

booked a recurring slot Sunday afternoons).

Even if someone does have an appointment to speak with me by telephone, I’ll have the ringer turned off, so I won’t hear you trying to get through.

What’s more, I’ll reply to every single mail I feel deserves attention before I’ll even begin to listen to my voice mail. And if your voice message doesn’t include a damn good reason for me to call you back, forget it.

I haven’t spoken to the editor of this fine publication by phone since she assumed the role (nor the editor before her for that matter). It would be a waste of time for both of us. If we really need to talk, I’ll buy her lunch (at a time and place to be determined by e-mail). After all, I’m not anti-social. I just prefer to be sociable in a social setting, not when I’m trying to get work done.

For some time I thought I was fairly unique in this regard, and attributed much of what others have called “”arrogance”” with the fact I run my own business and can set my own rules.

It turns out I’m not alone. META Group recently conducted a study of business professionals in 387 organizations and discovered 80 per cent of respondents prefer e-mail to phone. I take this to mean most people consider it unprofessional to phone someone when you can e-mail them instead. I heartily agree.

In fact, about three-quarters of respondents believe being without e-mail would be more of a loss than being without phone service (I get uneasy when that many people agree with me).

These numbers are particularly impressive in light of the fact we’ve all seen our e-mail volumes (and the time we need to spend on them) increase significantly. Apparently the annoyances of e-mail are inconsequential compared to the intrusiveness and productivity loss associated with telephone conversations.

Another joint study by Legato Systems and Osterman Research found 79 per cent of IT professionals are now using e-mail for mission-critical operations, so you can’t raise the argument e-mail is being preferred because of its frivolous side (joke of the day, picking the bar for this Friday’s get together, etc.).

So where does this leave the humble telephone? Will it eventually go the way of the dodo or the buggy whip? Of course not. We still keep horses around, although they’re a pretty useless form of transportation by today’s standards. We’ve found niche applications for equine technology (racing, jumping, glue, natural fertilizers, etc.), and no doubt we’ll find niche applications for the telephone as well.

Charles Whaley, PhD, is a Toronto-based IT consultant and market analyst with Information Technology Enterprises. cwhaley@ITEnterprises.com

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