Hard to argue that one of the all time best inventions ever is caller ID, We all rely on it every day, using that little display to exercise some small measure of power, to deny access to a caller. When I see certain entries come up, I always have the same reaction…
NAME UNAVAILABLE/Not Available – Ha! Then I’m unavailable/not available to you.
800 Service/Toll Free Number – Thanks, but I don’t want to be bothered at home with your scripted sales pitch. Move down the list.
Washington + 212 – You only call if you need my vote or opinion; but as I pay my taxes, obey the laws and put up with too much nonsense from all of you, I’m not taking your call. Stop pretending that you care what I think.
OUT OF AREA/Unfamiliar City, ST – So it’s not all that likely I know you and it’s going to stay that way. Long lost relative or Hollywood power broker interested making one of my books into a movie (seriously), leave a message, everyone else, move along.
UNKNOWN CALLER/NAME – a test for the ringer volume (or the batteries) on the phone, forever unanswered. I don’t get your name, you don’t get my attention.
If caller ID had never been invented I’d be answering all these calls. And it’s taken me years to quickly cut off the ones that do get though (a last name and local number) and hang up without guilt. It’s been a long time since caller ID became a feature on our phones… so long that some of you reading may not have known a time without it. My children don’t. I’d imagine anyone born after 1989 would never have experienced the unique thrill (terror) of answering a phone call and not knowing who’s at the other end.
In those days we didn’t know any differently; so when the phone rang it was something we all noticed. Ringtones didn’t exist, and the ring of the phones were meant to get your attention, which they did. Answering was a household obligation. All too often you ended up being stuck in a conversation full of stilted pleasantries and awkward pauses with someone you hadn’t wanted to talk to. You spent the whole time trying to figure out what to say while coming up with a (believable) excuse for getting off the phone.
Back then touch tone phones and three ringer choices (with volume) were innovation. The neighborhood kitchens of my friends all had wall mounted rotary dial phones that matched the color scheme. The day (early 1970s) when my brother and I convinced our parents to add call waiting to the home phone was a hard-won victory. We could finally talk to our friends and leave the line open for those infrequent but bothersome calls for parents. Simpler times.
Enter caller ID in the late 1980s and we’ve become comfortable with the idea of knowing who is calling before we pick up. Now we can look at the display for a heads up on who’s making our phone ring, who wants to reach us. Some calls we take without hesitation, others involve a bit of deliberation. Still others provide the opposite experience, a knee jerk avoidance of taking the call and a gleeful sense of power at being able to have this kind of control.
Today it is possible to avoid people you don’t want to (aren’t ready to) talk to, or people trying to sell you things (candidates).
Or people trying to scam you. One of the best ways to protect yourself is not to pick up a call from someone (even calls identified as 911) you don’t know or expect to call you. If you’re looking for a job and recognize the company name, that’s a different story. If you’re waiting for medical test results or are in treatment, you could get legitimate calls from numbers or names you don’t know; that’s different. If you have a loved one in crisis you’re more apt to get calls you don’t recognize from support services or state agencies; again totally not what I’m talking about.
My rule on caller ID has always been pretty simple. Anyone legitimate whose call you miss will leave a voicemail and contact details for you. Anyone else won’t waste the time and will move on to the next target.
I also regularly try to remind myself that the telephone is a tool, a convenience.
- It cannot command you to answer, that choice lies with you.
- It does not own you or obligate you to be connected just because the technology exists or is in your possession at this moment.
- Talking on the phone takes concentration, please don’t talk and drive or grocery shop.