Listening 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.
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.
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.