January 10, 2002
Caller ID ain't for me
By Barry Lewis
I don't need to know who's calling me.
I want to know when I pick up the receiver. But I don't need to know when it's ringing. Or before I say "hello?" There are times when I actually look forward to that ringing surprise. Life seems to offer up so few mysteries, that an unexpected break in a dreary winter's day can lift my spirits.
"Gee, I wonder who's calling me? Think I'll pick up the phone and find out. Hello?" Is that so hard? Are our lives so complicated, so filled with interruptions that we can't possibly wait until we pick up the phone and ask, "hello?" before finding out who's on the line.
Do folks get that many annoying phony phone calls that they need to block what comes in, forcing friends and family to hang up and press *82 before redialing? Want to talk about annoying? A fine fellow from Verizon explained that the popular "Caller ID" will allow me – for just $7.97 a month (plus an additional few cents to handle some taxes) – to reject any anonymous calls. "It purifies all calls coming in ... and filters out the nonsense calls," said my man from Verizon.I wasn't sure if he was offering me "Caller ID" or a room humidifier.
Folks who have Caller ID marvel at its convenience. That's because they don't have to keep redialing their own number. I should call you twice because you need to know who I am? I don't have time to waste. What do I get for my troubles?
I bring all this up, because I was forced to "identify myself" when calling Mom in Brooklyn. Mom gets three calls a week, almost all from her sons. Yet she's got Caller ID, Call Waiting and Dual Call Waiting Caller ID display. She spends more time trying to figure out who's calling her than she does talking on the phone with the person. "Why do you need Caller ID?" I asked the woman who admits the mute button on her remote gives her trouble. "So I know who's calling me." The only reason this woman needs Call Waiting, is so she can yell at two sons at the same time, wondering why they don't call her enough.
There was a time when making anonymous calls was as much a part of growing up as putting baseball cards in the spokes of your bike. Of course we didn't know they were anonymous. We just didn't know whom we were calling. I'm not talking about any, "Do you have Prince Albert in a can?" or "Is your refrigerator running?" stuff. That lacked creativity, spontaneity and most importantly, believability.
We took pride in our anonymous calls:"Hello ... is this Mrs. Rabinowitz who lives in Brooklyn, New York?" "Uhh ... yes." "Mrs. Rabinowitz ... this is Bob James from Music Radio 77, WABC. We picked your name out of a hat ... you'll have 30 seconds to answer a question and receive $25,000. Are you ready Mrs. Rabinowitz? We could hear a flustered Mrs. Rabinowitz yelling to anyone around to grab an extension, grab a book or grab her before she fainted. We all took turns making these calls. The person who did the talking was the one whose voice hadn't cracked that week. Surprisingly, no one ever won the $25,000. Rhodes scholars couldn't answer these questions.
"I'm sorry Mrs. Rabinowitz ... you were so close. We were looking for a different 5th century B.C. Greek philosopher. But for just playing you'll receive a pair of Ginzu knives, a transistor radio and a Music Radio 77, WABC bumper sticker." Looking back, I'm not proud of what I did. I think the consolation prizes could have been better. Just think about how many adolescents would have been deprived of creative growth if they would have been forced to identify themselves before making the call.
Who knows what trouble Caller ID would cause. "I'm sorry Mr. Bell ... Mr. Watson is not accepting private calls. Please hang up, dial *82 ... "
Barry Lewis is Sullivan County editor for the Times Herald-Record. He can be reached at 794-6711 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.