Is the answering machine obsolete? - Denese Rodgers

Last Christmas, we noticed a strange trend with our telephones. People would call, literally at or after midnight, and leave the same message up to eight or ten times.

The next morning, one worker would return phone calls as the other began accepting the normal daily calls. As the first worker would call, she'd have to leave a message. The person would call back, sit in the queue for 30 minutes and say, "Somebody called me from this number." We'd ask, "Who was it?"

Almost to the person, they would say, "I dunno. I didn't listen to the message." It was the most maddening dance you could possibly imagine, if you understand that there were as many as 90 callers in the queue.

Now, every year we do a post mortem after Christmas to self-analyze "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." That awful phone dance most definitely entered the Ugly column.

So, we started looking at the value of taking any calls after hours. We are not a life-saving organization; we don't even remotely have the staff to be "on call." Hmmm. So, we made the decision to not take after-hours messages. It has been months now, and I don't think anyone has noticed.

The funny thing, though, is that now the same routine just occurs during the day. If someone has to leave a message, when we return the call, they will screen the call. It is bizarre. If someone needs to talk to us, wouldn't you imagine that they would save the number so that they understand it is us returning the call?

Salespeople are really interesting. I had one leave multiple messages with only her phone number for about two weeks. When she finally caught me in the office, she wanted to set me up with a benefits packaged tailored to my needs. I explained that we've already got one - and she said, "Well I've been calling for weeks." "Yes," I said, "and if you'd left me a message about your purpose, I could have saved you any time past that first call." She snorted at me -- very interesting sound.

It is almost as though phone messages are becoming obsolete. We have messages from those who've been drinking, those who forget to leave phone numbers, and those who curse. Hello? Our phones are digital ya'll - We can see what number the calls come from!

When I was in my twenties, I had an obscene phone caller for three years. The jerk got my number off of a check that I had written in a shoe store. It is simply too bad I can't revisit that time with the nifty phone technology that we have now. I'd have his derriere planted under Sheriff Chaffin's jail and he'd have to wait his turn to have his phone calls say, "You are being called by an inmate of the Henry County Jail. Do you wish to accept this call?"

Denese Rodgers is executive director of Connecting Henry, a social-service, networking, community organization in Henry County.