Sorry, Right Number: Call Waiting and Other Atrocities by Marjorie Dorfman

Have you ever noticed that every time you reach a wrong number, it's never busy? What if, whenever you dialed a number, you regretted the entire process? Read on if you dare.

Is there anyone who hasn’t seen the old film noir classic, "Sorry, Wrong Number" with Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster? Made in the 1940s, the film weaves a clever tale of a woman who overhears plans for her own murder over an accidental cross of telephone wires. She commands the operator, whom she refers to as "a good woman who probably doesn’t understand," to re-connect her to the number she reached in error and not the one she was trying to dial in the first place (her husband’s office number). Even in the movies, this cannot be done and it actually was her husband’s private line she had reached (the right number), but that is a call waiting of another color. In its wildest cinematic dreams, Hollywood could never have predicted that the repercussions of modern technology could be as potent a motive for murder as an inheritance via the death of a wealthy spouse!

Call Waiting is a great annoyance to anyone out there not engaged in a three-way conference call. It uses a special tone to let you know that someone else is calling you while you are on the phone. I don’t know about you, but if one more person inquires who I am and then after a significant pause from the other end of the phone says: "Can I call you back?" I will absolutely scream bloody murder. Consider how rude this following scenario is.

Pick up the phone.
Oh, itís only you. Iím on the line with someone more important.
Can I call you back when my time is at less of a premium?

Talk about an inferiority complex! How could anyone fail to develop one after being treated that way? Call waiting is equipped with other rude options as well. You can answer the incoming call or ignore it (which is kinder than taking and then rejecting it). You can also switch between callers as often as you like, leaving one or the other dangling at the most important moments in the conversation. You can even encourage the callers to talk about each other as the other caller cannot hear each conversation. It’s a brusque business, but guaranteed to let all your important calls come through.

The Phone Company needs to be gently re-aligned along the path of courtesy, even though Emily Post is very departed from the land of manners, good taste and even breathing. She would probably roll over in her grave to see the extent of rudeness rampant in Call waiting, Caller ID, Star 69 and all those other features offered at minimal cost by the Telephone Company. How did they get started in the first place? What happened when a busy signal meant exactly that? If someone else were on the line, all your gossip would just have to wait until they were finished and the line was free. Today there are other options. Cut into the line by telling the operator it’s an emergency. Scare the hell out of whoever has dared to be on the phone when you need to speak with them! Make them pay for their choices! (They are probably talking about you anyway, but that’s another story altogether!)

Caller ID is even more discourteous than Call Waiting. When in operation, it flashes the number of the caller across a small screen. It is a coward’s way out because the caller is unaware that the callee may not pick up once the number flashes. He/she (the caller) can still pretend to be the callee’s friend to their face. Bill collectors will try other means, for they are resourceful and thick skinned due to their skinny wallets. They’ll come after you unless you can beat them to it by locating some unemployed hitmen looking for meaningful work. Check the Yellow Pages.

Star 69 (Call Return) sounds fascinating, doesn’t it? It almost could be the saga of a lost galaxy circling the cosmos in search of syndication. It could be, but it isn’t. In reality, it is another option that can further the rudeness already set into motion by Call Waiting and Caller ID. It gives you the number, date and time of the last incoming call, and the option to dial the caller back. In simple terms, this means that if someone has called you and left a message telling you they are holding your child for ransom, for example, you can find the number they called from without discussing it with the police. (That is, if no one telephoned after them.) You will be able to thank them for taking the child off your hands and work out a payment arrangement that is beneficial to both parties at your own pace.

Call Forwarding expands discourtesy to more than one front at the same time. Why be rude at one number when you can be so much more so on several lines? You can get out of the house and be rude, the office and even out of town (where everyone will send you if you keep this up!) Know that with this option all your calls will follow you everywhere you go, whether you want them to or not. All your incoming calls can be sent to another number at a moment’s notice (good for kidnappers and possibly executives on the go). You can keep everyone on their toes by changing the number where you can be reached as often as you change your underwear (I’m making an assumption here.) You can also opt for "Fixed Call Forwarding" if you are less adventurous, and have all your calls transferred to one number only. You have the power to send your calls as far away from you as you want and whoever you don’t wish to speak to along with them. (If you keep doing this to me I cannot be responsible for your destination other than to tell you it’s a rather warm and quite unpleasant place.)

With Home Voice Mail, you donít even have to be there to be rude. It offers convenience, simplicity and freedom by letting you access messages from anywhere at anytime. Canít sleep? Well, either wake up someone you donít like or check your messages! You wonít miss calls and your callers will never get busy signals. (After all, that would be rude, wouldnít it?) If you are thinking that your answering machine can do just as good a job, you are mistaken. Home Voice Mail is more flexible and reliable. Messages will never be garbled with Home Voice Mail and tapes will never be damaged, which can happen sometimes when tapes feel unloved and misunderstood.. Now there are no excuses for why they don’t call you anymore, (except for the truth, which is that they don’t want to!)

I opt for regression and stagnation. Bring back the old days, be they good, bad, ugly or whatever. We are too full of our own advancements, if you ask me, (which you didn’t). Alas, I know full well that the golden years of the cinema, Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster are gone forever. Still, I’m willing to take my chances with the intruder that creeps up the stairs to her bedroom at the end of the movie. He would probably kill me just as he did her, but at least I would have the ultimate comfort of knowing that he would never be rude to me!

Did you know . . .

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