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Dr. John Flucke is in private practice in Lee’s Summit, Mo. He also serves as technology editor for Dental Products Report magazine and keeps an active blog filled with thoughts and tidbits on the world of technology at blog.denticle.com.
DPR Technology Editor Dr. John Flucke uses Google Voice to simplify communications both inside and outside of the dental office.
You know, in the 1950s and 1960s, as modern conveniences such as the dishwasher were making inroads into our society, we were promised a future of things like the “20 hour workweek” and excessive leisure time. The concept was that as less of our time was taken up with everyday mundane things like washing dishes and hanging laundry to dry, we’d be able to use that previously occupied time for things like relaxation, visiting with friends and taking drives in our flying cars.
How’s that workin’ for ya? What we found instead of the “20-hour work week” was a continued 40-hour work week where we were expected to now accomplish 80 hours of productivity. Where, at one time, calling a company about a bill might take a day or two to get a response as someone waded into a room full of filing cabinets; today the answer is expected in seconds. With those expectations on us every day, we’ve also seen our stress levels rise and our memories appear to shorten.
We’ve become inundated with information. I read recently where a scholar said one issue of the New York Times contains as much information as a person in the Middle Ages might receive in his or her entire lifetime. Now are you surprised that you feel like you can’t remember anything? There’s really nothing wrong with you, it’s just that we’re constantly bombarded with information that we have to deal with…NOW!
For many of us, especially those of us with families, one of the central points of this information overload is the mobile phone. Our mobiles, if you carry a smartphone, have more computing power than was in the Eagle when it landed on the moon. They truly run our lives. Voice mails and text messages are the lifeline to our patients and our families. Many of us carry our smartphones with us everywhere, even toting them room to room at home so we don’t miss anything.
But what if I told you there was a way to have access to those voice mails and text messages from any electronic device you own…oh and one more thing…it’s FREE! Does that get you interested? I thought it might.
In September 2009 Google publicly released a new service called Google Voice. It’s flown under the radar both in geek circles as well as the mainstream media, and I’m clueless why.
Google Voice allows you to create one central place where you can access all of your text messages and voice mails. Here’s a fairly comprehensive example of how I use it every day. I think after reading this, you’ll have a good understanding of why I love it so much.
I signed up for a Google account early on; before Voice was even thought of. It gave me use of their Gmail service as well as Google Calendar and Google Documents. If you currently have a Google account, you have access to all of these services as well as Voice. When you sign up for Voice, you will be assigned a Google Voice phone number. You really have two choices with it.
You can use this number as the one you give out to everyone on or, if you are like me and your mobile is already well distributed to others, you can use your mobile number as the main access point. You simply fill out which number you prefer to use on the Google Voice page. Once this “main number” is setup the magic really begins.
I currently have two mobile phones. One is an iPhone on Sprint and the other is a Samsung Galaxy II on AT&T. I have both numbers listed with Google Voice. You can list others as well, but I only want those two involved with Voice at this point. When someone calls my Sprint mobile number, it is identified by Google Voice as my “main number.” As the caller hears the phone ring in his or her handset, both of my mobile phones ring. I can answer the call from either of these phones and the caller has no idea. To the person on the other end, I’ve just answered the phone.
If I had more phones listed, they would all ring. It’s just that simple. If, for whatever reason, I don’t answer the phone, it rolls to my Voice voice mail. Using a microphone on your computer or a computer headset you can record a personal greeting and, if you’d like, you can even record greetings for individual callers. It will be played to them as they are identified by Voice via Caller ID.
The caller leaves a message and you are immediately notified via text message and email. Google does two things at this point. The message notification emailed to you will have the voice mail message attached so you can play it. Additionally the message is converted to text using an automated system that is hit or miss in quality but usually provides at least the gist of the message…but there’s more magic than that. The Google Voice App that runs on my iPhone and my Galaxy II has instant access to play the message.
Beyond the phone
I also happen to have an iPad and a Motorola Xoom Android Tablet. Google Voice is available as a free app that’s downloaded from either App Store. When the message about the voice mail is sent, it also, through the apps, notifies my iPad and my Xoom that a voice mail has been received. These devices also have immediate access to play or read the voice mail as long as they have an Internet connection.
When received by Google, the voice mail is a digital file. That means that it’s now possible to email that file to others or to save it forever. Most mobile phone companies routinely delete voice mails left in a mailbox after a certain amount of time. With Google Voice they can be stored and kept forever, both in your Google Voice account as well as your email program.
Text messages are handled in a similar way. If someone sends a text to my mobile phone, it is received by every device I own and I can respond from any of these devices. When I send a text from my iPad or Xoom, to the receiver it appears as if it has come from my mobile phone as that is the number that shows up when the text is received. My responses are updated to all of my devices, so if I’m having a “text conversation” with someone on my phone the entire conversation is also listed on my iPad if I decide to continue it there. You can even archive important conversations you’ve had via text message so they can be accessed later if need be.
Google also has a Google Voice Web page that allows you to access everything from your computer. The page dynamically updates so if I happen to have the page open and a text message or voice mail comes in, I am immediately notified and can respond via text directly from my computer-I’ve actually received a few texts while typing away on this article! The Google Voice Web page allows access to all text conversations and voice mails that you have not deleted. Also, because it’s a Google product, all of this information is fully searchable from a text box on the Web page. Simply type in a search term and it will search all of your text messages and voice mails for the term.
There are other things you can do such as block callers and even call using your Google Voice number from your computer. Some folks give their assigned Voice number to others they don’t know well as a way to allow them to call but to not have access to their home or mobile number.