Thursday, 27 May 2010

The conference call.

The first light bulb was invented by Humphry Davy in 1809. The invention of the first motorcar is generally attributed to Karl Benz, the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell, television by Philo Farnsworth and the PC by IBM.

Any one of these names is open to debate and opinions vary, but that is not my point. My point is, what bloody idiot invented the conference call? Surely this is one of the most annoying, soul destroying and humiliating inventions ever. Why did they do it? What possessed them? There are few things in life worse than shouting into a small plastic object whilst gathered around a table. People talk over you, you talk over people. You react to things you disagree with by rolling your eyes and making obscene gestures to the little hateful plastic box in front of you, and in another room, miles away someone else returns the favour.

Almost worse than these conference call traits though is the silence. That terrible, interminable, yawning chasm of time when you’ve finished screaming across the boardroom table into the little box of misery and nothing happens. Everyone on your side of the call looks at each other awkwardly until some brave soul breaks the silence. Of course what’s happening is that a thousand miles away a group of faceless people are whispering to each other while you uncomfortably wheel your chair back and forth and look longingly at the plate of biscuits in the middle of the table. Eventually someone has to crack and it’s usually you who pipes up ‘Um, uh, comments?’ Then, a voice from afar squawks back with the question they’ve collectively constructed in their quiet time. Now you leave your own silence whilst you consider who is best qualified to answer, who knows the answer, who hasn’t spoken yet and who doesn’t have their mouth full of Jaffa cakes. Somewhere far away a room full of people are wheeling their chairs back and forth uncomfortably whilst looking longingly at the plate of M&Ms in the middle of their own table.

There will be those that argue that it saves time and money. You no longer have to leave the office, or travel to a meeting. All in all it has been hugely successful in further de-humanising business. I can’t argue with the fact that thousands of air miles, man-hours and carbon emissions are saved by steering clear of aeroplanes, motorways and overcrowded train carriages. And by confining ourselves to our desks or meeting rooms we are helping save our time, money and the planet. But the fact remains that the conference call is one of the most unpleasant tasks known to man. Right up there with hair waxing and attending children’s birthday parties.

Perhaps the only way to get through them in future is to introduce a little entertainment into proceedings. Maybe a game of musical chairs mid call? Whoever is without a chair when the music stops has to shout something controversial into the box. Can you introduce a surreptitious swearword into the call? “Let’s schedule a face-to-face and meet for coffee. Bob, you up for coffeee? I said Fuck offy. How about you Pam, you up fuck offy?” There’s always the old favourite ‘Bullshit bingo’. Anyone who can get more than six pointless buzzwords into the conversation gets first choice at the chocolate nut cluster.

If all else fails there’s always the fire alarm.


  1. Video conferences are even better (or worse) - and you can see people reaching for the biscuits (we have nothing as posh as Jaffa Cakes or M&Ms).
    A friend of mine once arranged with everyone at his end of the video conference that they would all freeze mid-sentence just to mess with the heads of those on the other side. Hours of fun.

  2. I love the people freezing idea. Perhaps they could have got one person draped in black to spookily wandered around the background, just to really freak them out.
    I can honestly say I've never done a conference call. Thank God. Another joyful experience to look forward to.

  3. i have seen the future. i too detest conference calls. they suck. as does video conferencing. but you what doesn't? it's a new thing called TELEPRESENCE. it is truly like being there. hidef video that is shockingly seamless. if i was the airlines i'd be shitting myself. don't ask me how it works and it costs a lot right now. but like the fax machine, the more have it the cheaper it will become.

  4. Hi Vinny. Great to hear from you. Never heard of Telepresence. I look forward to trying it. What I'm really waiting for is Telehologramming. It has to happen. Doesn't it?