Pick A Card.

slinkyListening to a radio report on the demise of voice mail reminded me of how much time at work I used to spend on the phone. My first job out of college was in customer service where all I did was answer phones. If you’ve ever worked in a job like this my heart goes out to you. It was a miserable three months even though a lot of the truck drivers were nice, and two were former professors of anthropology.

Even when I went on to work in a library I still spent a lot of time on the phone. Sometimes the only way to resolve an issue was to call a publisher or other company and speak to someone personally. This continued long after email became ubiquitous. A funny side story: I used to have to contact a company in Europe. Because of the language barrier and the expense of phone calls I’d send them faxes. They’d type a reply on the same sheet as the fax and mail it to me. This drove me nuts because if they replied by fax I’d have an answer the next day, but they used some bizarro mail rate that meant it took a month for a letter to get to me. When they got email I thought, “At last! My problems are solved!” and fired off a quick message to them. A month later I got my email, printed, with a response typed at the bottom, sealed in an envelope.

They did figure it out eventually.

"Wait a minute. There's a button here that says 'Reply'. Can we use that?"

“Wait a minute. There’s a button here that says ‘Reply’. Can we use that?”

The library where I work, like most libraries, used to have a card catalog. Librarians stopped updating it in 1986 when computers were installed. It must have seemed like a gradual change. Most of the information in the card catalog was still useful for years, even until they ripped out the drawers to make way for meeting rooms, although long before that the cards themselves were removed. They were given out to anyone who wanted them. I took stacks and stacks, and kept going back for more. They were useful for taking short notes so I kept them next to my phone.

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No joke–I drew this while waiting for someone to pick up.

Most of the time I spent on the phone wasn’t even spent talking to anyone. It was waiting for someone to pick up, listening to hold music. I’d sit and eat peanut brittle and pass that off as static when a person finally picked up. Or I’d draw pictures.

The time I spent on the phone diminished so gradually I didn’t even notice it going away. I still have stacks of old library cards. I still use them to write notes sometimes.

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8 Comments

  1. Gina

    Oh God, I too worked in customer service VERY BRIEFLY as a young adult. For just a few months. I was NOT cut out for that line of work. I never could get used to being yelled at by complete strangers. They weren’t mad at me of course, but it still hurt to be yelled at. I would leave work completely mentally drained. As a result, I always try to be super nice to customer service workers when I have a problem and tell them upfront that I may sound angry but I’m not angry at them.

    Anyway, loved the photo of you with the slinky. There’s something so relaxing about playing with a slinky that way. Watching it go down the stairs is only interesting a couple of times. Is that photo recent? I remember you said your hair was coming in curly now. It looks rather straight in the photo.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I try to be patient with customer service people too, but sometimes the people I talked to really were angry with me even though I hadn’t done anything. It was a company that served truck drivers on the road. One day one of the managers gave us bumper stickers, and we all asked if sticking something on our cars that said where we worked was a good idea with pissed off truck drivers out there.
      That photo is from 2010 or 2011. Yes, playing with a slinky like that is very relaxing. It’s also a good thing the windows of my office don’t open or I might have tried dangling it out the window to see if it would reach the ground.

      Reply
  2. kdcol

    I love your funny side story. Reminds me of when I had just graduated from high school and had me a little part-time admin job while attending the local junior college. I thought fax machines were the coolest thing. My friends and I would fax each other all kinds of things during the work day (jokes, pictures, etc.). Funny how that served us like emailing does today, but at least now not every Tom, Dick, and Harry walking by can swipe your email, like they could an incoming fax. Now it’s at least limited to IT who can view your email.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I remember thinking fax machines were the future of communications because it was so easy, so fast, and you had a written record of your conversation. And at least with faxes you never did have to worry about spam. For a while we did get a single page of daily coupons, which was kind of cool. They were mostly for nearby restaurants. It never got out of control the way spam can.

      Reply
  3. Spoken Like A True Nut

    Man, and I thought the people I deal with were bad for mixing communication methods.

    There’s a woman I email back and forth with literally every week over invoice payments. Obviously, she has my email address and knows how to use it.

    Except when she needs me to scan anything and send it to her. Then she calls before I get in to the office and leaves a message on my voice mail – not with the details of what she needs, mind you, just saying she needs me to scan and send her something and could I please call her back.

    I do not understand.

    I’ve taken to just ignoring her messages until she gets desperate and sends me an email, which I reward with an immediate fulfillment of her request, hoping she’ll figure out that email is always the way to go.

    But she never learns.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      So she understands she can initiate the email too. Back when my office first got email one person thought she could only reply to email, not initiate it. How she thought the first email got started is beyond me, but she was a prime target for the “Bill Gates will give you $5000 each time you forward this” email.

      Some people just have their weird quirks. A guy I worked with never used email. He would only call me, and would start every conversation with, “Chris, this is Mike.” Once he called and said, “Chris,” then paused. I made the mistake of saying, “Yes Mike?” He was speechless for at least a minute, then said, “This is…um…” and went on with what he wanted to ask me.

      Reply
  4. Ann Koplow

    I love the story about the email to Europe, which I”m dying to share with somebody else. NowI have to decide whether to use email, the phone, or something else. Maybe I’ll just tell my boyfriend, Michael, who’s in the next room.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      There’s always social media. You could use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever new thing the kids are using now, but for this story I think MySpace is most fitting.

      Reply

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