I was thinking this morning of the stopgap technology known as the answering machine and it’s first cousin, the pager. For readers not aware, the pager was a clip-on gizmo that alerted you when someone wanted you to call them. It displayed the phone number you were supposed to call. I never had one, I wan’t prone to appreciate being interrupted so that I could do your bidding.
The answering machines of old used cassette tapes then later, mini-cassette tapes. When you got home or back to your office (because remember, that’s where your telephone was; a slave shackled to a wall), you could check to see who called. And thus began the psychology of excuses for purposely dodging calls.
I yearn for the days of yore, when, if you were not home well, you would miss the call. You would have no idea if anyone called, or perhaps twenty people called. It was not even on your radar. No one ever came home, put the groceries down and began calling all their friends to find out of they had called. The assumption was that if someone needed to speak to you, they’d call again. If you knew someone might call but you did not want to be disturbed, you could simply take the receiver off the hook. A busy signal would sound to the caller. Doesn’t that sound great? This made it appear to the caller that your line was busy. Yes, this confirmed that you were busy as well, talking to someone else. The caller would undoubtedly feel snubbed; “Who could Tom possibly be talking to who’s more important than moi?”
Then came pagers and answering machines, and with them a torrent of little white lies and miniscule bits of psychological damage, piling up in our heads. “Huh- I didn’t get that message.” “Huh, my machine must be broken.” “Damn! The machine ate the tape!”
These dodges have carried into our 21st century life. I’ll wager you have a few go-to fibs for why you never call me back. That’s ok. I’ll just mentally stick my tongue out at you like we’re back in grade school, “Meh! I didn’t really want to talk to you anyway.”