Machinations on the caller ID |

Machinations on the caller ID

Barry Smith

Never again will you see someone grab a photographer’s camera, open the back, yank the film out with a dramatic flourish, then hand the whole mess back in a comical wad.You just can’t do that with a digital camera. You have to grab the camera, cycle through the offending pictures using the view screen, consult the instruction manual (since the erasing procedure is different for each make and model), go through the meticulous, multi-button process of deleting each shot, then hand it back to the photographer, who has probably walked away by now, because in the time it took you to delete a few pictures a cheaper, more advanced model of camera has been released.Hardly makes for a good burst of drama.And when it comes to drama, there is nothing that says “this conversation is over” quite like slamming the phone down. Assuming the conversation was taking place over the phone, of course.But with my cordless phone you can’t do that. If you slam it down without pushing the OFF button first, all you are doing is putting it on the charger, allowing the person on the other end to stay on the line indefinitely, as they won’t even be cut off by your battery running out. And that’s the exact opposite of slamming the phone down on someone. Phone slamming is on my mind because lately I’ve been receiving a couple of calls a day about the mortgage that I’ve never had.They are primarily recorded messages, which are the worst – there’s that slight pause after you say “hello,” then comes the pre-recorded voice meant to sound like a friend who’s calling to see if you have plans for the weekend, if they can borrow a cup of sugar, and if you’d like to refinance your home.I used to hang up upon hearing the tell-tale bit of silence before the computer recognized that it had a sucker on the line. As soon as the friendly recorded voice uttered its first syllable, I would “slam” the phone down by pushing the OFF button really hard while gritting my teeth. I’m sure I’ve hung up on more than one actual person because they paused before saying “hello.” But whatever – I’ve got things to do.Since this plan didn’t seem to reduce the number of mortgage calls or my blood pressure, I soon began listening to the messages, pushing the button at the end to speak to an actual person, and asking, in my best Dirty Harry voice, to be removed from their list. Then it happens – I get the phone call that chills my spine:”Hey! It’s Ken. What’s up? Did you catch that game last night? Can you believe it? Anywho … Hey, I was wondering if you might like to save butt loads on your mortgage? Cool. If you’re into it, press 1 now.”I press 1. A mechanical, far less pseudo-friendly voice comes on the line:”We’re sorry, all representatives are currently unavailable. Please try your call again later.”And then it HANGS UP! No message machine, no voice mail … I get a click and a dial tone!Do you know what this means? Yes! It means the machines are learning! The machines that have been programmed specifically to annoy us have taken matters into their own circuits and have gone a step further. They now call for NO REASON OTHER THAN TO CALL.Even if I had wanted to refinance my house, I couldn’t, because that is no longer the point. The point is them letting me know that THEY are now in charge.Now each time the phone rings and I see “toll free” on my caller ID, I get a little creeped out. I usually let the answering machine take it, but I fear that they’ve become friends, as the Mortgage Computer hangs up when it hears my recorded voice. Yesterday, just out of curiosity, I picked up and said “Hello.” And what I heard made me fear for the future of humanity:”Hi! It’s the Mortgage Computer. Do you have Prince Albert in a can?”Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Mondays. His e-mail address is, and his very own Web page is at