by Robert Waltz
Not for the faint of art.
|This article is a lot of words for a simple answer: telemarketers.
Why No One Answers Their Phone Anymore
Telephone culture is disappearing.
But still not as many words as if it were a New Yorker article.
See, if someone had been walking their dog in Central Park and a guy jumped out of the bushes and bit the dog, it would be reported in different ways by three different New York publications.
The New York Times:
Man Bites Dog
A man leapt from the bushes and bit the flank of a golden retriever belonging to Jamie Sands of West 72nd Street yesterday, sources say.
The New York Post:
Man Bites Dog
It finally happened!
This reporter has been waiting for this moment since his first year at J-school!
The New Yorker:
Incident in Central Park
A cool breeze brushes the tops of the trees as Jamie Sands, a 42-year-old mother of three human children and one golden retriever named Spike, strolls along one of the park's many carefully-maintained paved paths. "I walk Spike here nearly every day," she says, sighing and staring off into the distance, eyes seemingly focused on one of Manhattan's new pencil towers, its slender spire seeming to scrape the sky, to coin a phrase. "I never thought something like this could possibly happen," says Sands, her gaze shifting to her peripatetic canine companion. The dog pulls her along a winding trail through manicured lawns, stately trees, and trimmed shrubberies.
It was from one of those shrubberies, with its dense concealing foliage, that the unthinkable occurred.
Sands moved to the Upper West Side in 2006, upgrading her apartment from the 300-square-foot flat in the hipster enclave of Greenwich Village. "It was the third child that did it," she says, leashing Spike back from his investigation of a particularly brave squirrel. Squirrels have claimed Central Park since the moment it was founded, finding homes in treetops and terrorizing passers-by...
(there follows 360 column-inches of meandering, descriptive, wistful, breathless, pointless, post-modernist writing, with the description of the actual dog-biting incident buried approximately 4/5 of the way down.)
But The Atlantic? The Atlantic wouldn't touch a "Man Bites Dog" story. No, too pedestrian.
They apparently will, however, stretch out a "Why we don't answer the phone anymore" article to the point of absurdity.
The telephone swept into Americans’ lives in the first decades of the 20th century. At first, no one knew exactly how to telephone.
Verbing weirds language. Also, of course no one knew how to do it at first. This is true about any new invention. "At first, no one knew how to fly an airplane." "At first, no one knew how to attach wheels to a cart." "At first, no one knew exactly how to cultivate crops." I mean, come ON.
People built a culture around the phone that worked.
Um... I'm not sure it actually worked.
In the moment when a phone rang, there was an imperative. One had to pick up the phone. This thinking permeated the culture from adults to children. In a Hello Kitty segment designed to teach kids how the phone worked, Hello Kitty is playing when the phone starts to ring. “It’s the phone. Yay!” she says. “Mama! Mama! The telephone is ringing. Hurry! They are gonna hang up.”
That right there would have been enough to put me off phones for life.
Not picking up the phone would be like someone knocking at your door and you standing behind it not answering. It was, at the very least, rude, and quite possibly sneaky or creepy or something.
Well, too bad. I'm busy. That phone is there for my benefit, not yours.
I attach no special value to it. There’s no need to return to the pure state of 1980s telephonic culture.
I'll give the author this much: there's a simple discussion about the way things used to be, without the sense of nostalgia that so often accompanies such articles. "I remember sitting at my drawing-table, endlessly tracing cursive letters until my hand cramped. Kids these days just don't understand how beautiful handwriting can be. Those days were simpler, life more elegant..."
There are many reasons for the slow erosion of this commons. The most important aspect is structural: There are simply more communication options.
No, the most important aspect is every time I'd pick up, someone would be trying to sell me insurance, or claim they're from the IRS and I'm boned, or warn me that my car's warranty was about to expire.
You’ve got your Twitter, your Facebook, your work Slack, your email, FaceTimes incoming from family members. So many little dings have begun to make the rings obsolete.
Oh, how I long for a future without Twitter or Facebook.
Finally the author gets to the main point. This is called "burying the lede," and it's despicable.
There are unsolicited telemarketing calls. There are straight-up robocalls that merely deliver recorded messages. There are the cyborg telemarketers, who sit in call centers playing prerecorded bits of audio to simulate a conversation. There are the spam phone calls, whose sole purpose seems to be verifying that your phone number is real and working.
Incidentally, this article is nearly three years old, so the data in it is from 2018. I doubt anything's significantly changed since then. There was a period in late 2019 when I remember getting, no shit, no exaggeration, two to three dozen spam calls a day. Blocking the numbers doesn't help, because they're spoofing. Answering only makes them call more. It got to the point where I simply turned my ringer off. I missed a couple of calls from friends doing that, but it was worth it.
And then when I'd check my voicemail, I'd find messages in Mandarin. MANDARIN. Again, I'm not joking. I'm just surprised none of them were in Russian.
The spam has diminished to two or three a day, now, so I keep the ringer on. Still, I want it to go to zero.
Anyway, that's my rant for the day.