Can you hear me now?

Despite the fact that it really is the killer app for the early 20th century, I am really starting to regard the telephone with a look of contempt.  Not necessarily one for letter-writing myself, I do enjoy receiving handwritten letters in the mail, and I will write back.  Ideally, I prefer to meet the person somewhere–as in, face-to-face. 

Yes, that means putting the Xbox controller away, putting the computer into sleep mode, and straying away from the comforts of the 4-walled cage we call home.  And it means that we actually venture into a public place, where people might see us, scan the crowd for the recognizable face, obtain a raspberry-pomegranate Italian ice from the coffeehouse counter, and then settle in for a couple good hours of pure old-skool schmoozing.

The phone has been an important cog in the wheel of society’s slow-but-sure downfall.  Armed with a tool of convenience from the git-go, which in itself isn’t a bad thing, we became complacent, technology-dependent, and it led us a step in the direction of hermitdom.  No longer did we have to venture out or hand a letter to the Pony Express rider in order to contact someone and spread information.  We could push buttons into a machine and then talk into a speaker and voila!Houston, we have contact.

This has led us, though, to increase our demands.  You want to ask someone a question and get the answer right now?  Call them.  Want to see if they’re home without checking their driveway for their car?  Call them and see if they answer.  I’ve done all this, but in the additional years that have passed since high school, in talking with people from previous generations, I’ve come to agree with some in that to call someone is actually somewhat rude; you’re potentially interrupting whatever it is they may be doing.  Maybe they’re catching a much-needed nap, or trying to enjoy a quiet meal.  Maybe they’re using the restroom and thinking “dammit” when they hear the phone ring across the house. 

Manufacturers have tried to come up with workarounds.  The ringer volume switch that includes an “off” option was a start; the answering machine was golden.  But then you get these people who don’t leave messages!  So during the Pre-Caller ID Age, you never knew who it was that called you or what they wanted.

Enter Caller ID.  It couldn’t come out on the market fast enough for me.  I was so assuming that the crappy priority-reversed state I was living in at the time (NOT Texas) would make Caller ID boxes illegal because it would infringe on the privacy rights of the hoodlum classmates who would crank call me in junior high school or the telemarketer who wants to sell you carpet cleaning service.  But thankfully, this product of God’s Eighth Day saw the light of day.

And then you have the morons who decide they’re going to remain “out of area” or “unknown caller” on your Caller ID display.  Almost always telemarketers and always annoying, they managed to snuggle up to the politicians to at least allow this loophole. 

At first, I imagine it was legit: not every number was hooked into the network yet.  But I had a hard time with that logic when numbers from Canada would show up, but not those of corporate American telemarketers.  But, at least you could tell the annoyances more easily now; they soon became the only ones who showed up as “out of area”, so identifying them became a slam-dunk.

Now, in this day and age of shameless we’ll-stoop-to-any-sleazy-shenanigan-if-we-can-make-a-buck antics, even unlisted numbers get pestered by automatic dialers that comb through every number combination and greet you with an automated greeting that lies to you, telling you that this is a second notice on a vehicle warranty renewal.  Funny, I don’t remember having a first renewal.  The worst part?  You can’t call them back.  Sure, they show up with a number, but don’t expect it to actually work.  They’re only playing pretend.  The real owner of that number is an innocent party somewhere, some college chick who has had threats made on her life because some cunning scam artist spoofed her number onto his and started harassing her such that she had to ditch that number and get a new one just to get herself out from under the mess.  So, good luck tracking them down.

Let’s also talk about the self-absorbed narcissists who loudly gab on their cell phones all the way through the store, and cannot even be bothered to ask the other party to hang on a minute while she (usually female) acknowledges the human existence of the cashier that she expects to serve her.  Did I also mention exactly how loud she is?  Did I also mention that we all may not WANT to hear a play-by-play of last night’s entertainment event or her feminine issues?  Some people have no shame.  Shame is something that is on the decline in our society.  This sad fact does not, however, make inappropriate social behavior any less inappropriate.  It’s time to start a grassroots comeback.

Can I also discuss the phone menus?  You know, the kind you run into when you have a simple question about your electric bill.  It’s no secret that these impersonal we-already-have-your-money-so-now-we-don’t-give-a-shit companies don’t actually want to talk to you.  Why should they?  Their use for you is finished.  It went in with last night’s deposit.  They don’t actually want you to take up any more of their time, nor do they want to pay a real live human being to tell you this.  They’d rather display passive-aggression, the empty claim that “your call is important to us” but the attitude speaks greater volumes, especially when you’re 54839056th in line and “your call will be answered in the order it was received”.  You have two choices: kill your evening waiting, or just hang up the phone and eat whatever defeat you incur by not following through on your phone call.  Either way, you’ve lost.  Yes, they know that.

And my last beef with the phone is that I am a Massage Therapist (Hear Me Roar).  In case you don’t already know, massage therapy sessions run at least an hour, if not 90 minutes or even more.  Most massage therapists are still solo practitioners who are small potatoes enough not to have a storefront with a receptionist to answer all the incoming calls.  Thus, when you call a massage therapist, expect to leave a message.  This is the rule rather than the exception.  I cannot understand the people who took the time to look me up, read my website, like what I have to offer, reach for their phone, dial my number, and then…click.  No message.  I see that the person called; their number shows up on my “missed call” list.  But no message, so I can hardly call them.  It’s almost like a tease: “ha, ha, you could’ve had me, but since you were in session, I’m punishing you by letting you know I called” (hence the glaring evidence of the missed call) “but I’m moving on.  Neener neener!”

OK, I lied.  I have one more beef with phones.  Talking on one is one thing.  No problem there.  Texting, mp3-playing, and internet browsing are quite another story.  When a professor announces that there’ll be a surprise quiz after a 10-minute break and during the break half the class floats in, you just KNOW that those who were here texted those who weren’t (but were on campus, studying in the library or playing ping-pong in the gym) so they made sure to hightail it up to the classroom. 

This is cheating the system, if you ask me.  The whole idea is to be HERE, in class.  This is kind of important if you want to be a doctor.  You gotta kind of be here to receive the information.  Just once, I’d like the prof to come back after the break and say “psyche!  No quiz.  I just wanted to see who was actually on campus after all.”  Bonus points if the prof springs the quiz on us unannounced at the very END of class, after the slugs had all left again to go reclaim their beanbags in the library.  Suckers!

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