Saturday, April 19, 2008

Long-Distance Runaround

Remember when people used to answer the phone? I'm older than you, so you may have to just trust me on this, they did. Including your local police, some of whom have joined the business and corporate and education monolith in voice mail. I always tell people I have an answering machine and not voice mail mainly because no one has ever explained to me what the difference is except that there is, apparently, a difference. Not to me-I just play back the messages and try to follow along.

I have callers, I'm not sure why but fear it's what passes for charm in my case, who will, on a day I'm out of the office all day (like last Sunday, 'Don' or 'Doug' I couldn't really tell which) leave a message and then call back later in the day, and leave another message to tell me they called earlier, are waiting for me to call them back and with a sense of impatience audible in the message that 'it's important'. Oh. Thanks, especially for that last part. I had assumed because it is, after all, me that you're calling, until you made it clear, that your phone call was mundane, hum-drum, routine, run-of-the-mill; but now alles klar. However, as I don't think you've grasped, I'm still not in the office. Sorry. (It must be magic living at your house.)

Admittedly that's not quite as daunting as those mazes of phone paths that have me pick me a language when my call is first answered. I'm always tempted to pick an other than English language because I could really use the practice, but I wouldn't do that if it's my bank, or my pharmacy, or my car repair shop. What would that leave me? Mom? 'Oedipus, call on line two-I don't understand what they're talking about- it's all Greek to me'. Then the automated voice goes through a menu of options so vast I always lose track of why I called and what the first seventeen options on the menu are. I have now reached a point where I wait for the voice command that asks if I want to talk to a real person (but that's not the phrase, at least not in English) and then I push the "pound key" (I guess so named because I pound on it). I don't care who the person is, even if it's a janitor who answered the phone as he walked by to go on break because the ringing was irritating him.

The phone at the time of its invention and worldwide implementation was hailed as a marvel, bringing people together and revolutionizing the process of communication. Set in today's 'what are you lookin' at?' pace, we would have Alexander Graham Bell, as he did on 10 March 1876, dial Thomas Watson (how cool would it be to have a phone number like Murray Hill 0-0001? Except that was probably Bell's) and have the phone answered with "Hi, this is Thomas Watson. I'm not in the laboratory right now, but your call is important to us; but not so important that I'm actually here to answer the phone. After the tone, please wait until 1935 when Willy Mueller invents the answering machine and leave your name, number, and a brief message and I'll call you back. And you too, Alex, or Don. Or Doug. I mean it's important, right?"
-bill kenny


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