I was reading an article in “The Atlantic” a few minutes ago, and it set me thinking. Bless me, that is good writing if it can get another writer banging away at the keyboard at 6:30 a.m. before her first cup of coffee has kicked in.
The article was on phone etiquette, or our lack of it these days. People in our area are still pretty polite, but the rise of robocallers and telemarketing scams is eroding our traditional good cheer.
When I was a child, when the phone rang, you picked it up and answered it. A phone call was no mean thing. When people called you, it was usually important, maybe even a matter of life or death.
Answering the phone wasn’t quite a ritual, but it came close. You chewed that last bite of pot roast frantically as you got up from the dinner table and rushed to get the phone, swallowed and then answered “Hello,” even if your voice still sounded a little thick and muffled.
And then along came the 1990s and ruined everything.
Once or twice a week, the phone would ring. After nearly strangling yourself to answer it, there would be nobody on the line. It was the birth of the robocaller.
Before that, there were telemarketers, poor souls between regular employment who needed to earn a bit of hard cash. I always felt kind of sorry for them and it was hard to tell them “no,” but I still had to.
I started losing my sympathy when the telemarketers got pushy and kind of rude. I mean, what the heck? They called me, at home and after work, and got snotty with me when I told them I wasn’t interested.
Within a few years, the companies trying to conduct shady business on the phone didn’t even bother using real people. They just hired some other dodgy company to ring your phone at random times to see who answered, and when. Now, they merely play a pre-recorded pitch and hope for the best.
Unless the company happens to have its call center in India. If you get a call from one of these places, you still get to talk to a real person. Unfortunately, you can barely understand what they are saying, or you are outraged by their spiels.
Faint heart never won fair lady. These guys are rookies and give up too quickly. They hang up within three minutes.
It is annoying and wastes my time. Still, it is kind of fun for a few minutes. The worse ones use a soothing and sympathetic voice when trying to part me from my money.
This wouldn’t be too bad, but the worst offender is a well-known national charity. No good deed goes unpunished, you know. Donate something to them, and they think that they own your soul.
Every day for three months, I received three or four telemarketing calls from them. Sometimes they stooped to robocalls. I stopped answering, and they filled up my voicemail until I told them to stop, or else.
“Or else” is a reminder that my phone number is on the state and national do-not-call lists. Reputable companies will stop bugging you. The scammers just change their phone numbers to look like they are calling from your home area.
The scammers started using this ploy about two years ago. This is why I had a nice, if brief, conversation with a pleasant officer manning the desk at the Freeport police department.
And so, like a lot of people these days, I seldom answer my phone, landline or cell phone. The landline is for business or family use, while the cell is for anyone who needs to send me a text message or needs to reach me when I am away from my desk.
I still get scam calls on both, but not nearly as many as I did a few months ago. The nice telemarketers who keep trying to buy my timeshare gave up for a while, but they are back again. I do not have a timeshare, by the way.
The calls may be coming from a company that was recently busted, its CEO out on bail after being arrested for fraud. This single company was responsible for an astounding number of robocalls, to the tune of billions per month. That is “billions” with a “b.”
The FCC swore that it would reduce the number of spam and robocalls a few years ago, but the situation is worse than ever. These variations on telemarketers are like dandelions. Pull one up, and three more takes its place.
I am not offended if somebody doesn’t answer my phone call right away these days. I know how it is. Even though I am semi-retired, I still receive 10 or more calls a day and most of them are robocalls.
I’m a writer. It is above my pay grade to come up with a solution. I prefer to write quirky stories rather than complain because it gives me a sense of control over my life.
That is the odd thing about telephones. They were invented to improve people’s lives and came to control them instead.
For some reason, I still feel a little guilty when I let a call go to my voice mail. It’s like Pavlov’s dog rebelling and refusing to drool whenever it hears a bell ringing.
[Susan Kerr is a semi-retired freelance writer living in her hometown of New Bethlehem. Previously, she was the managing editor of a regional-interest magazine and a business journal in State College.]