Confessions of an Answering Machine
When we miss phone calls, are we really missing much?
THIS FALL, I had 40 unheard messages on my home answering machine.
I’ll save you the questions. Yes, I still have a home phone. (It’s practically free with my TV and Internet bundle.) Yes, it’s for calling out in an emergency. Yes, I have a mobile phone that I use to make 99 percent of my calls. No, I don’t ever give my home phone number to people. No, I never pick up my home phone. No, I’m not sure what the number is off the top of my head.
And no, I don’t check my answering machine … ever. Why would I? You can reach me by cell phone, text message, Twitter direct message, or Facebook messenger. People barely even leave me voice mails on my iPhone. What’s the point of leaving a voice message on an answering machine in my spare bedroom that’s connected to a phone number that I’ve never given out? What 40 people are that desperate?
I pushed play.
One message was a warning from the Town of Matthews about a power outage. I do not live in Matthews. Another told me to push 1 to be transferred to the security department. That sounded serious, but at the part where the company would reveal its name, phone number, and reason for calling, the message cut off. Many were political robocalls from the height of election season. My favorite: An actor I’d never heard of threatened me, saying if I didn’t vote for Thom Tillis, he’d start telling people he was from Tennessee instead of North Carolina. Promise?
Most troubling: I’d been getting three or four calls every weekday from something called CPP in Dallas, Texas. The people calling from that company never left a message. They were intent on reaching me in person, it seemed. Turns out, CPP is an overly aggressive telemarketing company that wants to sell you credit card swipe machines. According to online review sites, they often call several times a day, every day, until you give in (they have an F rating from the Dallas Better Business Bureau).
I called CPP and asked why they were so persistent with a person who does not need a credit card machine. “Probably an auto dialer,” said the woman on the other end, who then kindly put me on their do-not-call list after I explained that I am not a business. Companies, I’ve since learned, cannot put other companies on a do-not-call list. Corporations are people, but in this case, thankfully, people are not corporations.
Every message sounded of desperation; somebody needs to sell a product or a candidate so badly that they’re willing to open up the telephony fire hose and hope you get enough water on you that they can sell you a towel. Consider this: There are 7.9 million potential phone numbers in an area code. In Charlotte’s 704 area code, there were nearly one-and-a-half million phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, and over the last year, more than 19,000 people complained that they got a phone call from a telemarketer anyway. Hours after CPP said they’d stop calling me, they called. Again. And again.
With any new technology, we gradually learn how to filter out what we don’t want. We skip commercials with DVRs. Our email spam filters catch emails about Nigerian princes and Russian pharmacies. We don’t click on shady-looking Facebook posts. Robocalls? Telemarketers? We’ve been on to them for years. In a world of native advertising and viral marketing, they seem quaint, really.
I pushed delete. Forty unsolicited messages disappeared. I felt good.
Then the mailman came.