Return to Sender
by Jan Baughman

Don't get me wrong; I'm glad that my life takes place in the communication age, but I'd like to communicate when I want to, not when you want me to. It used to be safe just ignoring the phone between 6 and 7 p.m. when every newspaper, phone company and catalogue company tries to hold us hostage with their breathless sales monologue. But now they call at any hour, so forgive me if you always reach my answering machine. I'm screening.

There is a horrible new method by which the person you hang up on can enter a code and your number is called back so they can try to figure out who hung up on them. (I won't say what the method is because I refuse to promote its use; for the sake of discussion let's say it is #1*). Recently, I called a number on a "Lost Cat" flyer to say that I thought I had spotted it in front of the house. When I got an answering machine I hung up because someone in my house was sleeping and the phone would wake him. So just as I am up the street on my hands and knees under a car, the phone rings. I sprint back, pick it up, say "Hello" and hear: "This is Chuck".

"Okay, who are you calling?"

"You called me."
"Excuse me???"
"You just called me and hung up. I 'pound-one-star'ed you."
"I would have left a message if I had wanted you to call me back."
"Well, why did you call me?"
"I thought I spotted your lost kitten."
"No, he came home yesterday".
Thus began the sunset of my Good Samaritan days... Anyway, not only can people screen their calls, you can't get away with not letting them.

I was excited by the Caller ID blocking option that Pacific Bell was forced to offer at no cost. (The no-cost part is a surprise considering one has to pay to NOT have one's phone number listed in the directory). I opted for all options of the blocking. A friend who did the same told me that he was trying to reach his aunt recently and when he called, he got a recording saying that the party he was calling would not accept calls from phones with Caller ID blocked... I doubt if solicitors use Caller ID blocking, it's probably just normal people like me and, soon, telephone communication will be a thing of the past because we won't be able to reach each other, anyway.

I was recently contacted by a long-lost friend who was given my e-mail address by a mutual acquaintance. I was excited to hear from him, but after a couple of exchanges, I found myself on one of those mailing lists of jokes and bad puns. One day I replied that he used to write very interesting letters to me and now he simply sends me junk mail and feels that he's communicating. I haven't heard from him since.

My hope is that with the use of e-mail replacing the telephone, we will all become eloquent writers someday. And all we will have to do is look at the return address before deciding whether or not to open the envelope...

Published July 25, 1996
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