I remember the thrill of buying my first answering machine, for my first phone, in my first apartment, at my very own phone number.
To me, this was a huge step forward in my new found independence, not only in helping me run my household but in remaining connected with family and friends.
Just to help set the stage, this was the late 1980s. The concept of handheld devices bombarded by emails and text messages was still years away.
For those times I needed to be in two or three places at once, an answering machine was the solution to ensure I didn’t miss any important telephone messages.
But when I was home, the reflex that many of us shared was to run to answer the phone when it rang.
I reluctantly admit that for my borderline extrovert personality, there were times that the introvert in me needed some breathing space. After exerting a lot of extrovert energy in a bustling office, I just needed some time to recharge.
When the phone would ring, I might have reluctantly said to myself, “Maybe I’ll let the machine get it”. I didn’t do it all the time. Self-inflicted guilt would not have let that happen.
Legitimately letting the machine get it (guilt-free) meant that either I was away, in the shower, in the apartment building’s laundry room, or my hands were gunked up with something, likely while working in the kitchen.
When I think about it now, a caller wouldn’t have known the difference whether I was there or not. I probably shouldn’t have felt as guilty as I did if I was there and I didn’t answer the phone, but it seemed to go against the reflex and the social custom of that time period.
Ever the thorough researcher, I often wondered which of the cardinal sins that would fall under, in the event that I might need to go to confession over it. The only one that seemed to come close was perhaps sloth. But if the reason was because I needed to recharge my batteries enabling me to be my cheery gracious self for when I chose to return the call, how could that be sinful?
In my defense, at that time, I was working in a busy help-desk/call centre where I was probably already on the phone for seven to eight hours, five days per week. It should come as no surprise if I had the occasional day when the last thing I wanted to do when I came home from work was to be on the phone.
I felt bad when I didn’t pick up the call, and I sometimes stressed about it up until I returned the call. But in understanding myself better today, I realize that this was an early version of being “off the grid” when my energy was depleted, and was probably a healthier move in the long run than I gave myself credit for.
But fast forward about 30 years and the pendulum seems to have swung to the opposite side.
Today, I couldn’t imagine picking up the phone each time it rings. And it isn’t for the sole purpose of creating a little space to recharge my batteries, it’s because (for me) 9 calls out of 10 are from some form of telephone solicitation.
While I don’t mind the calls from certain charitable organisations I support (even though I know how to reach them if and when I feel I can spare a few dollars), it is the way that the telephone has become an accepted medium for trying to sell me things I don’t need, to survey for opinions I’d rather not share, or to ask me to part with a few dollars for charities that I have not thoroughly researched.
Ironically, one of my first jobs was as a phone solicitor. I know that I disturbed some folks at inopportune times, which was an unfortunate part of the job for the people at both ends of the line. But we were very respectful of the people we called and we did not use pressure tactics. It was a take it or leave it type of call, and a “not interested” was enough for us to move on. Just the same I wonder if there is some karmic payback at play.
Today, I will let voice mail get it, as it seems to act as a deterrent for many of those types of calls.
I feel bad for legitimate phone solicitors because it makes their job significantly more challenging when people like me don’t pick up anymore.
But that was the realization I made recently when thinking how far we’ve come. Thirty years ago, I wrestled with my conscience in letting the machine get it when I was there. Today, I couldn’t imagine picking up the phone, even if I was there, simply to create a buffer and a deterrent to solicitation calls.
And the best part is that by today’s standards, I believe it’s much more common, socially acceptable… and completely guilt free!
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One response to “When Screening Calls Became Socially Acceptable”
Before the answering machine it was hiding the phone under a pillow–now there’s some guilt.