Once a blessing, the home telephone has evolved into a curse

  • Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Generations ago when the common telephone (land line) made its first appearance in American homes, it was a genuine blessing. Now, I am not too certain.

What used to be a simple instrument for speaking with someone you really wanted to talk to has often turned into an instrument of torture. It was originally a pleasure but, now, more and more, it is becoming a device that allows anyone in the world to invade your privacy.

The “do not call list” was supposed to quash that problem but frankly it is a useless gesture because I get many calls each day from someone, somewhere, who wants to relieve me of some of my money.

Gone are the days when you could count on the fact that when the telephone rang it was certain to be someone with whom you were glad to hear from. No longer!

Today, it is likely to be a huckster of one stripe or another trying to get you to do something that is rarely in your best interest.

Conversely, whenever you make a call these days you are likely to be greeted with a recording requiring a choice of numerous new options which have always “changed.” You are not allowed to speak directly with a real person without going through a series of options. This is almost universally true with all business and government offices. It’s irritating but yet, we just accept it as normal to the times.

When I was very young, my family didn’t have a household telephone but my grandmother who lived next door did. We were never out of touch with folks who had a legitimate reason to contact us. Today, Granny would be driven batty making numerous treks next door to fetch my Mom or Dad only to be told that a wonderful opportunity of one sort of another was theirs for the taking

I decided several years ago to fight back against unwanted solicitations.

This week, I got a call from someone offering me a free ocean cruse if only I would come listen to a sales pitch for the purchase of a time-share condo in, gosh, who knows where. I told the caller that I was thrilled but could she wait a moment while I turned off my breathing ventilator allowing me to hear her better. You guessed it; “clunk” went her phone receiver.

For other occasions, I have devised alternate devious responses. For instance, I get many recorded calls advising me of news about my credit card if I will only press the one button on my keypad for a representative. I do and after a short wait, a person answers but before he can say anything, I thank him: “…for the “valuable” information but exactly what credit card are you referring to?” They are never able to answer the question and promptly hang up.

I have added these two responses to my repertoire of pranks I have pulled through the years whenever my life is interrupted by these unwanted telephone solicitations.

For instance, my favorite tactic is to respond, thusly, “This is the operating room of the hospital and if you don’t let me get back to my patient on the table, he is going to bleed to death.” The caller immediately hangs up. After all, who wants to be responsible for the death of a fellow human being?

Another favorite of mine is whenever the caller asks for John Brock and it is obvious that it is a nuisance call, I respond, “He died this morning, would you like to speak with his widow?” No one ever wants to talk with the widow. It works but I did scare the heck out of a second cousin once who had just called to chat with me.

On some occasions, I politely ask if I could speak with someone who speaks English even though the caller is speaking perfect King’s English. It always befuddles the caller and they hang up.

My all time favorite, however, is to ask the unwanted caller to speak louder because I am hard of hearing. The caller elevates the volume of his voice as I once again ask him to speak a little louder. After several of these requests, the caller is shouting. At this point I lay down the receiver and go about my business.

Perhaps I should not respond in such a manner but in the Southland, the excuse: “The devil made me do it” will suffice. This reasoning has even been used for the defense in murder trials I am told.

I am certain that my telephone number has been removed from numerous calling lists but not nearly all of them.

No the convenience of telephones is not what it once was. And I haven’t even addressed the out-of-control business of cell phones. More about that later.

John Brock is a retired college professor and, newspaper editor/publisher, who lives in Georgetown County. He can be reached by mail at this newspaper, or by Email at brock@johnbrock.com

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