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White House struggles for 22 minutes to mute conference call

Commentary: In a call with reporters about Iran, it becomes hard to create silence. Should we feel sympathy?

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Business phone on office desk

Is it hard to achieve a silent consensus via gadgets?

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The other day, I was on a Skype call with a hard-headed (and hard-nosed) techie.

We could see each other. I could hear him. He couldn't hear me. 

We fiddled and we fiddled. We clicked here, there and everywhere. 

In the end, we gave up, switched to a Zoom call and it worked. 

I found myself, therefore, teetering toward sympathy upon hearing that White House staff fought for 22 minutes to create a muted atmosphere on a conference call with reporters.

As CBS News reports, the Thursday call featured White House officials explaining to reporters the decision to maintain the status quo with respect to nuclear program-related sanctions on Iran. 

It seemed, though, that neither side was exactly muted.

"This White House can't even run a f***ing conference call. They don't know how to mute their line," a media participant said.

This was countered by an unnamed White House official who offered: "It's the illegitimate media that doesn't know how to conduct themselves. They can't mute their f***ing phones. Mute your phones."

It's unclear exactly what caused such a long and painful interlude. The White House didn't respond to a request for comment.

Some have, in the past, blamed the White House for its lack of technological skills on conference calls. Last year, a call was interrupted by an ad that crowed: "My inflatable doll is a lesbian."

On Thursday, however, the 22 minutes it took before all sides could somehow make their own pieces of technology stop transmitting sounds at inappropriate moments must have seemed like a tragicomic eternity.

Indeed, Politico's Michael Crowley offered his perspective on Twitter.

There are those who believe that this might describe the whole political scene of recent times.

But though it's tempting -- and, indeed, easy -- to blame the White House for conference call chaos, some might say that it also reveals how technology has moved a long way from its pretensions to simplicity.

How many functions, for example, of your phone or watch -- the smart types -- do you actually know how to use?

Then again, there are those who feel that this isn't the most science-embracing, tech-adoring administration America has ever seen. Some reports have suggested that the president doesn't even carry a cell phone or use email.

Ergo, this conference call snafu appears merely one more demonstration of its less-than-competent ways.

When we're ruled by robots, we won't have problems like this, will we?  

Technically Incorrect: Bringing you a fresh and irreverent take on tech.

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