The Tyranny of the Telephone

Aug 18, 2015 | 6 comments

Lily Tomlin as Ernestine

Lily Tomlin as Ernestine

Sometimes I know the gods are listening and they waste no time at all in punishing you for your evil thoughts. Why else would our cell phone have died four hundred miles and eight hours from home? And, of course, it wasn’t just the dead phone at issue; it was no access to the all- important contact information that it contained.

Nyel and I had spent at least one hundred of those traveling miles berating the modern telephone culture. As in, why when I called the clinic for an appointment did the scheduler have the right to triage me (is triage a verb?). “What is the problem?” she asked. “I’m not sure. That’s why I want to see the doctor,” said I.

Twenty-first Century Tin Can?

Twenty-first Century Tin Can?

It wasn’t meant as a smart-ass comment; I’d already told her my symptoms and that it wasn’t an emergency (no blood, protruding bones, chest pain, etc.) and reviewed my insurance coverage at her insistence.  Never mind that I have been that doctor’s patient for twenty-five years…

At the end of an increasingly frustrating (and intrusive) barrage of questions, I snagged an appointment for the end of September. Six weeks! I console myself that, one way or another, this too will have passed.  We remembered fondly the days when the friendly receptionist just honored your request for an appointment without the inquisition.

Another annoyance of modern telephone technology is what I call the “Press One if You Speak English” syndrome. Why in the world do I have to make choices for seven or eight categories when I call a local business that I know for a fact has living, breathing, available humans to answer the phone? Because We Can. That’s why.

Gone, Not Forgotten

Gone, Not Forgotten

And then there are the Telemarketing Calls, the Robot Calls, and the legitimate Voice Messages from bad cell phone connections giving you a garbled sense of urgency that you cannot act on. Oh, and  the Phoebe Calls. Remember that episode of “Friends” when Phoebe stayed on the phone for twenty-four hours (or more) because ‘they’ kept telling her “Your call is important to us.”

We had definitely decided that, monopolies and antitrust laws notwithstanding, we miss the good old Ma Bell days when there were live voices at the other end of the line and when an unanswered call meant that the person wasn’t home, not that they had checked caller ID and decided not to pick up. We are not ‘as one’ with these times of Telephone Tyranny.

So, is it any wonder that our only connection (so to speak) with the outside world died the moment we reached our destination? Where is a pay phone or a telephone booth when you need it?  And whatever happened to two tin cans and a string, anyway?

6 Comments

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    Recently I attended an Emergency Preparedness meeting organized by the manager of my mother’s apartment building which is for elderly and handicapped people. Each resident was given an emergency radio to receive storm and tsunami warnings. Cool! They were also given a little key ring to which was attached a small plastic pouch with a ziplock type closure. “Fill out the little card that’s in there with the name and number of an out-of-area friend or relative that you can call to report your status following a disaster. Also put in two quarters so you can use a payphone. You will need to locate the nearest payphone.” Now from my experience following the Nisqually Valley earthquake I know that cellphones can over load satellite capacity, but the nearest payphone to Surfpines Apartments, where the residents are elderly and handicapped, is the one at the intersection of highway 101 and the bay road, meaning my 93 year old mother would need to walk with her walker about 17 miles. There’s a payphone in Naselle, too. I think that the phone company should receive some state and/ or federal money to install and maintain emergency phones. As to the language thing, I recently read that when you get a customer service representative that you can’t understand and discover is not inside the USA, you have the legal right to request to be transferred to a representative inside the US. A friend commented that if we all start requesting American representatives, big businesses will lobby Congress to change the law. And don’t get me started on the Social Security computer you get to talk to. My yearly call to them for income verification for my mother, which is supposed to “take 3 minutes” takes 45 minutes because their system cannot understand ME and eventually hangs up! Yes, I, too, miss Ma Bell and real live Americans on the other end of the line!

    Reply
    • sydney

      Nan, I am totally impressed! I have no clue what my San Rafael number was. BUT… I do remember my number in Alameda which was some years previous to San Rafael: Lakehurst 2278. I think you dialed LA for Lakehurst.

      Reply
    • sydney

      YIKES! It’s even more complicated and misleading than I realized.

      Reply
  2. Nancy Holden

    We had the best telephone system in the world. I know, I worked for them. It ended December 31, 1983. It exists only in our memories and in the history books.

    Reply
  3. Nancy Russell Stone

    Dear Sydney: Do you remember your number in San Rafael? Mine was 428R.

    Reply
  4. Marion Freshley

    I’m with you Sydney totally. Things were so much easier in the 70’s and 80’s and even before. I feel like an idiot at times with my ‘smart phone’. A person certainly needs to keep up with technology or they are out in left field so to speak. As I told my husband one day it was so much easier and there was less stress when we had just plain old land line phones, no computer & no cell phone. I guess ignorance was bliss.

    Reply

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