Telephone Answering Machine Blues

If technology is supposed to make life easier, why does a new telephone answering machine create more problems than it solves?

| October/November 1994

  • 146 telephone answering machine
    Proficiency in college level math and wartime flight experience impart almost enough knowledge to use a modern telephone answering machine.

  • 146 telephone answering machine

In 1984 I bought a telephone answering machine and plugged it in at my home near Sonoma, California. I didn't really want it. I didn't really trust it.  

I'm 75. My all-time favorite phone was the phone we had at Bushwillie Farm in East Pittsford, Vermont, when I was a small kid. It was a brown wooden box slung on the kitchen wall. Inside the box were some primitive electrical bits that I took for granted. You turned the crank two or three revolutions — brrrng, brrrng, brrrng — then lifted the receiver off the hook and a real-live operator said "number, please." The operator rang the number for you, unless someone was on the line. In that case you hung up, waited, and tried again.

That was a swell telephone. It's been downhill ever since.

I bought my first answering machine because I had been hired to do some PR work for a six-foot-five-inch gung ho land developer. He said he roomed with Ted Kennedy at Harvard and flew B-47s on recon flights over Communist Poland. Dan (I called him Dan) was a Big Spender. Dan suggested that I buy an answering machine because Lord knows how many calls I'd get once people heard about his ideas. My job with Dan lasted two months, the answering machine lasted a while longer.

PhoneMate was pretty easy to install and had a minimum of gadgetry — a dial here, a button there, a little screen that lit up and informed me how many invaluable calls had been recorded.

I don't care for "cute" messages. No doggerel, aimless tunes, or friendly insults. My message stayed the same for ten years. During that decade, the highest number of calls the machine displayed on the little screen was eight. During that decade, I never inserted a new tape, a fact that my daughter found ludicrous.


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