Telephones Revisted

May 31, 1996

We all know how I feel about telephones, but what about answering machines? Okay, I have to admit, I have a soft spot in my heart for certain technological devices, including answering machines. After all, they’re the ultimate form of personal expression, and not just for the people who have those clever personalised messages that say things like, "This is Richard Nixon. Leave your message and everybody will hear it." I once spent two hours making a series of calls to a friend’s answering machine and describing in painful, frequently graphic, terms how unbelievably bored I was. Amazingly, though, the machine acted as a sort of non-speaking therapist, letting me get all the angst out of my system until I left one final message: "This has given me a new outlook on life. I think I’m going to go fly a kite." At other times, answering machines have allowed me to take out my frustrations, like the time I took advantage of the call transfer capability of my college campus phones and filled someone’s answering machine tape with a busy signal, or even better, the time I transferred a call to someone at 2 am just as the answering machine was picking up, so it would sound like the machine itself was calling them. (Considering the delirium I’m usually in when jolted out of sleep by the phone, I can only imagine what surreal insults were sent to the owner of the answering machine.) The best part about answering machines, though, is that they’re the ultimate way of screening calls. Even though the machine starts howling like a hemorroidal banshee if you pick it up mid-message, it’s better than going into a phone call without knowing if it’s friend or foe. The trick is explaining why, every time you’re at home, you seem to be in the shower.

Enjoy the following warning to anyone who enjoys the uses of technology too much. Even though my operatives in Sri Lanka (who kindly refer to me as their road map to the Information Dirt Road) may not fully appreciate this, I have a feeling that technology will eventually penetrate even the darkest jungles. Would someone else mind going out to meet it? I’ll be in the shower.

Well, it’s been a very busy month, and looks to continue to be, unless I get cut off, since I’ve only got a couple of hours to go before I’m over my "deluxe" account’s 240 hours!

When you exceed 240 hours of Internet usage during one calendar month, Teleport will dispatch their crack squad of "Get a life" advocates in their customized RealWorldMobile directly to your home or business.

They break down the door, pull you outside, and quickly (before pork-rinds-and-cola-drink withdrawal symptoms kick in) begin giving you nutrition containing at least three major food groups, since you haven’t been getting that lately.

By this time, your eyes will be reacting the strange things you’re seeing. That bright yellow thing is the sun, although you’re not the only one who has trouble recognizing it around here. The blueness behind it is not a background image, it’s the "sky." Those people staring at you are your "loved ones"; don’t worry if they don’t seem familiar at first. They were much younger the last time you saw them.

Within minutes, you’ll be whisked to a special detox center, where you’ll remain for the several days or weeks that it takes for you to lose the constant impulses to read net news and search the web. Instead, you’ll be able to spend time reading books and magazines. (Hint: If you find that you’re having trouble reading beyond a certain point because you want to press a key to continue, ask one of the nurses for help.)

At first, you’ll feel cut off from everything that matters in life: e-mail, the web, Usenet. You’ll want to dial the phone just to hear the modem tones. You’ll be tempted to ask your friends to smuggle in contraband items such as memory chips, diskettes, even transcripts of IRC sessions. Some people have sunk so low as to beg just for a chance to ping or finger.

But you’ll be surrounded by trained counselors who can help you during those long nights. Rest assured that the cure rate is nearly 100 percent, although most people continue to attend periodic support meetings.

I’ve been there. I know.

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