LOVING AND HATING THE PHONE WHILE WISHING IT WORKED BETTER – Marilyn Armstrong

Since everyone’s into talking about hating phones, I figured I’d throw my oar in the water too.

I loved the phone right through my teenage years. I and my girlfriends would chat the night away, even though we lived two houses apart. The phone was more intimate. No one else was around. Just us, hidden under the bedclothes.

From the 1910 and 20s (reproduction, original had a dial) …

From then on, it became gradually more of a nuisance. When I was a kid, a telephone call meant someone you knew was calling to say hello. You could talk and laugh. There were occasional wrong numbers, but that was all. Later, it might mean I’d gotten a job I’d applied for or a story had been accepted.

Technology changed everything. At first, subtly, but eventually, it changed the telephone from a communications device to a sales tool. The concept of “cold calling,” trying to drum up business meant fewer than half our incoming calls coming were people you knew, though they might and include calls you wanted. Reminders from the doctor of an upcoming appointment or another pending appointment were useful and usually brief.

Telephones look like this for at least 30 — maybe more — years

By the time I was in my 40s and had recently returned from Israel, most calls were solicitations or surveys and occasionally, a person you knew and actually wanted to talk to. At least those earlier calls were live human beings, but over the years, they became recorded messages. It’s extremely rare to get a human being on any business call.

Thirty-two years later, no live person ever calls except a couple of friends and a few local businesses. All the rest of our calls are medical, hackers, surveys, insurance companies trying to get your business, and my personal favorite, silence.

Making calls inevitably involves waiting and I think I can hum the background music to at least three companies “waiting” mode.

Our local hospital, where most of our medical appointments take place (other than our personal physician) has the longest recorded voice mail call I’ve ever heard. It’s a full five minutes waiting for that final moment when you are allowed to press “1” meaning “Yes, we’re coming.” Instead of giving you the most useful information at the top, they give you the hours of service, a reminder to bring your medical card, and money (can’t forget that now can we!), the address of the building (but never directions to get there), followed by a rambling buildup until, at the very end, you can push “1” (“I’ll be there”) or “2” to rebook — or worse, a different phone number which is read so fast I have to have them repeat the entire recording to get the number written down.

Our own wall phone. It doesn’t work properly anymore, but it lives on that wall anyway.

As a technical writer, I know that no one wants messages like that. The “are you coming?” should be on top followed by “make a new appointment” with a list of options including directions, speak to a human being, talk to a doctor or lab for test results, and finally, “Thank you for calling” so you know you’re done and can hang up. A lot of these calls just leave you wondering if you completed the call or not.

If, for example, you are a long-time patient, you should be able to just press “1” and hang up after that, but they won’t let you. You have to listen to the entire recording. I sometimes fall asleep while they drone on. They first call you a week before your upcoming visit, after which they call every day until you are ready to dive through the phone and beat someone with a handset.

Then there are customer support departments. Clearly, when you finally connect (and hopefully have been disconnected multiple times), one person with a headset in a huge room full of other customer service people are all talking at the same time. The background noise makes it impossible to hear anything. Maybe they can hear you, but all you hear is jabber. All of this following an endless stream of music that becomes an earworm you can’t dispel.

None of this makes calling people fun, especially because when I finally do call a friend, they are never home anyway and I get their answering machines. At least they usually call me back — or email me or something.

Modern phones … for a “landline” and a cell

It’s not hard to learn to hate telephones. It’s much harder to like them. If indeed they ever eliminate solicitations, hackers, and poorly designed recorded messages removed from phone lines, someone might try making a phone call in the hopes of having a conversation.

Of course, it would help if the phone stayed connected long enough to have a conversation, which is entirely another subject! Since getting a real landline is absurdly expensive, everything — even our supposed “landline” is part of your WiFi service with its tendency to glitch or fade in the middle of a call. It’s turn-of-the-century telephoning on the most up-to-date technology.

U.K. phone booth, but where’s Dr. Who?

Often, I realize the issue is not how far we’ve come, but how far we haven’t come. I think we’ve really circled back to about 1917. Now, we can’t hear anything on mobile phones. But hey, you can text, right?

WOULD YOU PLEASE ANSWER THAT PHONE? – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The world can be divided in many ways – Republicans vs. Democrats, religious people vs. non religious people, cat people vs. dog people. Here’s another way – people who love the phone vs. people who hate it.

I love talking on the phone. I have many close friends who live far away now and it’s the next best thing to spending time with them in person. You can have real conversations that drift from one topic to the next. You can even interrupt each other! You don’t get the subtleties of body language that you get in person, but you’re actually engaging with the real person. You can remember why you loved this person in the first place.

Another important advantage of phones is laughter. We can hear our friends laugh at our jokes and our friends can hear us laugh at theirs. We get to laugh TOGETHER, which is huge. Laughter is a powerful bond. Most women list a sense of humor as one of the things they most value in a man. Sharing laughter is one of the great joys in life. You can’t get it in a text. Typing LOL is not the same thing!

When I was dating online, I discovered that liking someone’s emails was NOT a good indicator that I would like them in person. But liking someone on the phone gave me a pretty good chance that I would like them in person. That’s when I fully realized that writing and talking are on two separate planes.

Talking is personal. It reveals personality and connects people on an emotional, visceral level. You get most of what you get when you are physically with someone.

Emailing may tell you the writing style of the person but not their speaking style or their personal “je ne sais quoi.” In texting, people tend to write shortened sentences with abbreviations and even Emojis. So you don’t even get the “voice” or writing style of the person. The time lag with texts also annoys me. Write then wait. Read then write. Rinse and repeat.

Try watching a movie or TV show and hit pause for twenty seconds after each person speaks. Not very gratifying. In fact, it will probably drive you crazy.

To me, texting is great for short, immediate communications. Like: “In traffic. Running 15 minutes late.” OR “What time do you want us for dinner?” Otherwise, not really communications.

Nevertheless, I understand that some people are just not phone people. My daughter is a phonophobe. She would rather talk for an hour every few weeks and text in between to stay in touch. My mother hated the phone. When I was growing up, she would have me call people to change or cancel appointments for her so she would not get “stuck” talking on the phone.

My husband, Tom, is also not a phone person. When we were dating, it didn’t even occur to him to talk on the phone the nights we weren’t seeing each other. Once I started the pattern, he was fine with it. But he wouldn’t have done it on his own.

I think the younger generations are growing up totally immersed in texting and internet communications. They may never learn the pleasure you can get from a long phone conversation with a friend. They may not even have long conversations in person anymore either. From what I hear, kids spend time online even when they are really with other people. The art of the conversation may be dying out altogether.

I guess I shouldn’t be worrying about fewer people talking on the phone. I should be worrying about fewer people talking to each other. At all!

THERE’S A CODE FOR EVERTHING – Marilyn Armstrong

There is a code for everything these days. Every item in the shop, every village in the world.

There’s a code for every telephone. Bar codes float through the air like fireflies. We are all zipped up. Where once we needed our name, today we need a passport, email address, social security number, and zip code.

But, life on earth existed before codes. Before zip codes, cable television, and calling codes. Before bar codes were printed on every product. We used dial telephones which worked pretty well as telephones than the phones we use now.

In small towns, you only needed the last four numbers to place a call.

We mailed letters and remarkably, they got delivered. Television was not as diverse or intense, but it was interesting and often funny. We enjoyed it, or at least some of us did. If we didn’t, we could read a book!

We had conversations with each other. That’s right! Imagine it, for a moment, groups of people getting together and talking about all kinds of stuff. History, books, and the state of the world. No one became enraged and charged from the room with blood in his or her eye.

Oh, did I mention that most of us were polite?

We said things like “excuse me” and “thank you” and “please” … and no one felt diminished or belittled by talking like this. Politeness made many of the small things in life easier to manage.

Not that the world was perfect. Far from it … but manners helps smooth over some of the rough parts.

Much was broken and is still waiting to get fixed, but as a whole, we were nicer to each other. Personally, at least. We weren’t nice because we were whiter or browner or some shade in between. We were nice because we were taught to be like that. By our parents. Because civilized people were taught to be polite to adults and each other. It was the grease on the squeaky wheel of civilization.

As I watch kids today sitting together in groups busily texting each other, I have to wonder how they will develop human relationships with any depth.

If they don’t know how to have a conversation, how are they going to build a life? Maybe the passion for electronics will fade with time. After which, folks will remember how talking and laughing used to take up that space in their world.

You never know. It could happen! Of course, walking around with loaded military-grade rifles and murdering people who you think are the wrong color is both uncivil and extremely rude. We might try doing something about that while we are busy worrying about manners.

Civility is all well and good, but killing people is worse.

TALKING ON THE PHONE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The world can be divided in many ways – Republicans vs. Democrats, religious people vs. non religious people, cat people vs. dog people. Here’s another way – people who love the phone vs. people who hate it.

I love talking on the phone. I have many close friends who live far away now and it’s the next best thing to spending time with them in person. You can have real conversations that drift from one topic to the next. You can even interrupt each other! You don’t get the subtleties of body language that you get in person, but you’re actually engaging with the real person. You can remember why you loved this person in the first place.

Another important advantage of phones is laughter. We can hear our friends laugh at our jokes and our friends can hear us laugh at theirs. We get to laugh TOGETHER, which is huge. Laughter is a powerful bond. Most women list a sense of humor as one of the things they most value in a man. Sharing laughter is one of the great joys in life. You can’t get it in a text. Typing LOL is not the same thing!

When I was dating online, I discovered that liking someone’s emails was NOT a good indicator that I would like them in person. But liking someone on the phone gave me a pretty good chance that I would like them in person. That’s when I fully realized that writing and talking are on two separate planes.

Talking is personal. It reveals personality and connects people on an emotional, visceral level. You get most of what you get when you are physically with someone.

Emailing may tell you the writing style of the person but not their speaking style or their personal “je ne sais quoi.” In texting, people tend to write shortened sentences with abbreviations and even Emojis. So you don’t even get the “voice” or writing style of the person. The time lag with texts also annoys me. Write then wait. Read then write. Rinse and repeat.

Try watching a movie or TV show and hit pause for twenty seconds after each person speaks. Not very gratifying. In fact, it will probably drive you crazy.

To me, texting is great for short, immediate communications. Like: “In traffic. Running 15 minutes late.” OR “What time do you want us for dinner?” Otherwise, not really communications.

Nevertheless, I understand that some people are just not phone people. My daughter is a phonophobe. She would rather talk for an hour every few weeks and text in between to stay in touch. My mother hated the phone. When I was growing up, she would have me call people to change or cancel appointments for her so she would not get “stuck” talking on the phone.

My husband, Tom, is also not a phone person. When we were dating, it didn’t even occur to him to talk on the phone the nights we weren’t seeing each other. Once I started the pattern, he was fine with it. But he wouldn’t have done it on his own.

I think the younger generations are growing up totally immersed in texting and internet communications. They may never learn the pleasure you can get from a long phone conversation with a friend. They may not even have long conversations in person anymore either. From what I hear, kids spend time online even when they are physically with other people. The art of the conversation may be dying out altogether.

I guess I shouldn’t be worrying about fewer people talking on the phone. I should be worrying about fewer people talking to each other. At all!

HUMAN VERSUS COMPUTER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

People today talk nostalgically about a time when you always dealt with human beings on the phone and not computers. We believe that humans are responsive to our specific questions and take an interest in our unique situation. Therefore they can give you individualized help and service, which we assume is superior.

I’m not sure if that idealized past ever really existed or if we have collectively re-imagined this happy time in our history. I know that disembodied voices on the phone attached to living people have generously and graciously helped me negotiate bureaucratic nightmares in bygone days.Cartoon - Your call is important to us

Today, I don’t know whether to be happy or scared when I hear a human voice on the other end of the phone. At least with a recording, you can still hope that when you finally find a real person to talk to, they will straighten everything out. Here is the incident that triggered this rant.

My husband’s father died and my husband wanted to cancel his deceased father’s car insurance. He talked to a lady and told her that he wanted to cancel the policy because his father had passed away. The woman said she couldn’t do that. When my husband asked why, she said that you should never cancel a car policy because if his father ever drove his car again without the insurance, he would be fined. My husband patiently explained that there was no way his father would be driving again.

“How can you be sure?” the insurance lady inquired.

“Because he is dead.” My husband replied, trying not to yell. That should have ended the conversation with a win for my husband.

The phone lady’s response was Kafkaesque. “Oh!” she said. “Then I’ll have to talk to my supervisor.”

cartoon - please leave prayer at sound of beep

People on the other end of corporate or bureaucratic phone lines today do not seem to have the same great track record that we fondly remember. Maybe people don’t care as much about other people unless they are communicating with them via Twitter or Facebook. Maybe people don’t take pride in their jobs as much these days. Maybe people just aren’t as smart or knowledgeable as they used to be.

Whatever the reason, I used to automatically ask for a representative to help me when I had to call an institution of any kind. Now I give the computer lady a shot and if that fails, then I resort to a human. Artificial intelligence might not be that bad after all, if it is actually intelligent.

cartoon - to sink press ONE to swim press TWO

But one good thing did come out of the discussion with the car insurance lady. It gave Tom and I the idea for a piece for our audio theater group VoiceScapes Audio Theater. It’s about a guy calling the cable company to cancel his dead father’s cable account. It’s called “Till Death Do Us Not Part.” It’s very funny. And very true.

ZIPPED UP

There is a code for everything today. Every item in the shop, every village in the world. There’s a code for every telephone. Bar codes float through the air like fireflies. We are all zipped up. Where once we needed our name, today we need a passport, email address, social security number, and zip code.

But, life on earth existed before codes. Before zip codes, cable television, and calling codes. Before bar codes were printed on every product. We used dial telephones which worked better — at least as telephones — than the phones we use now. In small towns, you only needed the last four numbers to place a call.

We mailed letters and remarkably, they got delivered. Television was not as interesting, but we did read books for entertainment. And we enjoyed it, or at least some of us did.

We had conversations with each other. That’s right! Imagine it, for a moment, groups of people getting together and talking about all kinds of stuff. History, books, and the state of the world. No one became enraged and charged from the room with blood in his or her eye.

Oh, did I mention that most of us were polite? Said things like “excuse me” and “thank you” and “please” … and no one felt diminished by this. It made many of the small things in life a little easier to deal with. Not that the world was perfect.

Much was broken and is still waiting to get fixed, but as a whole, we were nicer to each other. Personally, at least. We weren’t nice because we were whiter or browner or some shade in between. We were nice because we were taught to be like that. By our parents. Because civilized people were taught to be polite to adults and each other. It was the grease on the squeaky wheel of civilization.

As I watch kids today sitting together in groups busily texting each other, I have to wonder how they will develop human relationships with any depth. If they don’t know how to have a conversation, how are they going to build a life? Maybe the passion for tiny electronics will fade with time. Then, folks will remember how talking and laughing used to take up that space in the world.

You never know. It could happen!

WHAT’S THAT NOISE?

I heard it, but it didn’t make any sense. Noise. Music. Shrill, loud music. Mozart. What does Mozart have against me? I never did anything to him …

fruitfly magazine telephone solicitationOh. It’s the telephone. Someone — maybe something — is calling. As the fumes clear my brain, I pick up the receiver, realize it’s an 800 number. No one in my world has an 800 number so I press “on” then “off” and the phone goes quiet.

I only answer calls from people with names or real numbers. Or which come from a number that looks like a real person’s number. No 800 numbers because they are not people. Most of the time, these calls are recordings. At best, they are hired guns trying to get my money.

I know everyone’s got to make a living, but you aren’t going to make it calling me. If I could reach through the receiver and get to a person on the other end, I would choke the life out of him or her. Or make my best effort.

These calls come in by the dozens. I don’t know how exactly the find me, but they do. My favorite recent one was a recorded message that started with “We are calling in response to your inquiry about a television advertisement for a back brace.”

72-Phones_04

Speechless, I stared at the receiver. Then I pressed the off button. I have never called in response to any television advertisement for anything. Not even once in my entire life.

So I was awake. Fortunately, it was already 10 in the morning and I would be getting up around now anyhow. Though just once, I would like to sleep in and not be jarred out of a dream by the telephone. It turns out you can only program the ringer to not ring between the hours of 11 pm and 9:30 am. After that, you’re on your own.

In case you didn’t know it, putting yourself on a “Do Not Call” list is the perfect way to distribute your phone number to organizations who sell data to telephone solicitation spammers.

I cannot stop the calls. All I can do is turn them off when they come. Too many mornings are the same, beginning with a ringing phone … followed by a day peppered with similar calls. Maybe that’s just life in the no-privacy, let-it-all-hang-out connected world.

I have only one question: Do these recorded calls actually earn money for anyone? Does someone actually buy a product because a recording called them?

IT’S THE PHONE …

There’s a myth circulating that senior citizens are up with the birds and asleep before sunset. An entire culture has been built on “Early Bird Specials,” because old people supposedly eat dinner by 4 pm. I eat around four, but I call it lunch. Dinner is later. Much later.

72-Mobile and Regular Phones_07

In my experience older people, especially retired ones, are up when they feel like getting up. They go to bed when ready to sleep. For us, that’s around one in the morning or later (earlier?). Even when we should go to bed earlier, “Just one more show?” usually wins over “Bed?”

Thus when the phone rang at eight this morning, I wasn’t happy. I got a new phone that plays Beethoven. Loudly. I’ve turned off the ringer in the bedroom, but I’m a light sleeper, so I can hear the phone ringing from three rooms away. At least my new ring tone is musical.

It took me a while to reconnoiter, to recognize the source of the noise. The phone. It’s the phone.

When I’m awake and focused, I only answer calls from people with names I recognize … or which come from a number that looks like a real person’s number. I don’t answer calls from 800 numbers because they aren’t people. They are recorded messages (talk about annoying) or hired solicitors. I know everyone’s got to make a living, but not by calling me.

72-Sky-Uxbridge-0807_100

I can’t see the caller ID from the bed. It’s easier to snake my hand around the lamp and grab the phone.

“What?” I say. It would be a snarl, but I’m not awake enough to snarl. I can barely mumble.

From the receiver comes: “Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?”

I was there, but not for long. I clicked “End.” Put the phone back into the cradle. Plumped the pillow and went back to sleep. I was merely annoyed … until the phone rang again. I didn’t answer it. I just clicked it on, then off, so it would stop ringing.

It was Quicken Loans. Again. Twice before 9 in the morning. Wow.

72-Sky-Uxbridge-0807_020

I knew why. Late last night I accidentally hit one of their ads on Facebook. It was late. I was clumsy. I aimed poorly and awakened a monster.

Quicken loans. I don’t want a loan. I don’t want to refinance my mortgage. I want to sleep. They called a total of 9 times today and sent me half a dozen emails. Be careful what you click. Be very, very careful.

Why 8 in the morning? Any time would be annoying, but earlier is much more annoying.

For anyone who reads this: I will never, ever buy anything at eight in the morning. Nor will I ever buy anything from a blind solicitation on the phone.

But I know, you’ll keep trying. You will never give up.

EIGHT IN THE MORNING – WHY IS THE PHONE RINGING?

There’s a myth circulating about senior citizens, that we are up with the birds and asleep before sunset. An entire culture has been built on “Early Bird Specials.” Because old people purportedly eat dinner by 4pm.

I eat around four, but I call it lunch. Dinner is around eight. Please call before you show up.

72-Mobile and Regular Phones_07

In my experience older people, especially retired ones, are up when they feel like getting up. They go to bed when they feel ready to sleep. For us, that’s around one in the morning or later (earlier?). Even when we should go to bed earlier (because we have something we need to do in the morning), “Just one more show?” always wins over “Are you ready to go in yet?”

Thus when the phone rang at eight this morning, I wasn’t happy. I’ve recently changed my phone. At least my new ring tone — a Mozart sonata — is pleasant. Not like the old one which had all the grace of a nail gun to the head.

It took me a few moments to reconnoiter, to recognize the source of the sound. The phone, Marilyn. It’s the phone.

When I’m awake and focused, I don’t answer calls from “Unknown Callers,” survey companies, or 800 numbers. None of them are people to whom I want to speak. Most of them aren’t people. They are recorded messages (talk about annoying).

I can’t see the caller ID from the bed. It’s easier to snake my hand around the lamp and grab the phone.

I see an unfamiliar name on the caller ID.

“Hello?” Big improvement on my usually hostility-tinged “Yes?”

“Good morning, this is Rita from the Milford Daily Telegram.”

72-Phones_02

Speechless, I stared at the receiver in my hand, trying to get through the clouds in my brain to remember what to do next.

“Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?”

I was there, sort of. Shortly, I remembered what to do. I clicked “End.” Put the phone down. Plumped the pillow and went back to sleep. I was pissed, though well short of a killing frenzy. I save murderous rages for back-stabbing former friends and moronic customer disservice personnel. I’ve outlived most of the back-stabbers — in which there is some weird consolation — and no matter how frothing at the mouth crazed I may get at customer service drones, I recover almost immediately. I may not even remember the details an hour later.

Actual solicitation calls, of which this was one, should not be coming at all. I’m on the “DO NOT CALL” list. Nonetheless, I get up to a dozen or more such calls every day. If I’m alert, I don’t answer them. When I don’t recognize the name but doubt it’s anyone I know, I respond with a hostility-laden “Yes?”

Note: Putting yourself on a “Do Not Call” list seems the perfect way to distribute your phone number to organizations who want to sell your data to spammers.

Why eight in the morning? Anytime they call me will be annoying, but do they believe they can sell me something if they call before I have time to drink my coffee? Or my defenses down because I’m not fully awake?

What they accomplish is to rob me of a couple of hours of badly needed sleep. I curse them for that. Sleep is precious. Nobody should attempt to solicit anything from anybody before eleven. Or ever, if it were up to me.

I’m sorry about not having a criminal rampage to report. I promise to write about it as soon as something appropriate triggers one.


 

MAD AS A HATTER

But why is the hatter mad? Did his hats not sell? Is he mentally unbalanced or merely angry? Inquiring minds want to know.

CAN YOU HEAR ME? ARE YOU THERE?

iphone-white

Going obsolete – or maybe going backwards.

I miss telephones on which you could be sure you had a connection that wouldn’t drop randomly and on which you could actually hear what someone said to you and know they could hear you, too. “Can you hear me? Hello? Are you still there?” It’s like 1915 all over again, only without wires or accountability.

We have all this fancy equipment … but you can’t be sure that a simple phone call will go through. What’s wrong with this picture?

Weekly Writing Challenge: Abstraction – Wires

Wire

Why do the wires run up? Are they sending messages to the sky?

Always the wires have stayed in line, marching along roads like proper wires ought. Humming and buzzing, passing trees, crossing rivers, streams, highways and alleyways.  

Wires going everywhere. See, there they are, deep in the woods and lofty on metal towers . All thrumming, full of messages and dreams.

But these wires are wrong, I cry. I cannot tell if they run up to mingle with the clouds or race down sending our voices to be lost under the earth.

I don’t like that.

I want my wires right again. I cannot live without wires. They connect me, correct me, protect me from isolation. They tie me to my world. 

How strange. Until the wires turned upend, I barely noticed them.