Are you trying to call my land line to conduct a telephone survey? If you’re from a firm called Survey Research, you have rung my phone twice this evening. As soon as I heard the call was from “Survey Research,” I studiously avoided picking up the phone. If I somehow pick up the receiver, the call lasts only as much time as it takes me to say, “I don’t participate in surveys.”
What do I have against surveys? I find that most of them are composed to convince me of something rather than solicit information. And if they should solicit information from me, they would have difficulty in classifying me. On most issues, I am liberal (I call myself a Libtard); on some, I’m a centrist; and on a few, I am downright conservative. As Walt Whitman wrote in “Song of Myself”:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
If the survey firm finds me to be cooperative, they will sell my number and other surveys will come ringing. They are desperate, because surveys depend on reaching a large number of land lines; and most people have given up their land lines in favor of cell phones.
So the next time an election rolls along (there should be one coming up in a few minutes—somewhere), the surveys will be a lot less useful than they used to be in the past. No matter. Political organizations will continue to commission them, and corporations will continue to try to sell or convince.
Just bear in mind that my opinions will not be represented in any of them.
It used to be that American corporations encouraged their customers to call them. But that was way back when. Now, with automated attendant services, the corporations let you talk to their computer—but only if you want to talk about the things about which they want you to talk. And nine times out of ten, those are not the things about which you are calling.
This month, I ran into a nasty bind with a medical lab. My doctor ordered from Question Diagnostics a self-administered test to be sent to me by mail. It never came, but Question Diagnostics e-mailed me to come into their office. Okay, perhaps they were going to hand it to me. So I made an appointment to go in and was asked for my doctor’s order. I told them it was sent from her office by computer. Then a look of comprehension crossed the features of the receptionist: “Oh, I see. Our supplies of that test ran out.” It was suggested that I visit other offices of the lab until I found one that had the test.
Rather than make appointments at multiple offices of the lab, I telephoned the various offices. In none of them was it possible to break through the barrier set up by the automated attendant and speak to a real live human being. Thereupon, I called customer service at the headquarters of Question Diagnostics. Would you believe that the customer service rep duplicated my steps in calling several nearby offices, only to be surprised that I couldn’t find out who had the test available? The rep mentioned that everyone was busy because of Covid-19. (I am willing to bet they’ll be using that excuse for the next five years, whatever happens with the pandemic.)
I made an appointment with the branch in Century City for 11:10 this morning using their Internet appointment software. I was met with a locked door and a sign saying they were gosh-awfully sorry, but the office was closed until November 1. Out of desperation, I returned to my local branch of the lab and, to my delight, found out that the tests had come in. The receptionist handed one to me, and I left with a smile on my face.
Although these corporate automated attendants don’t want to let me through to talk to anyone, many companies have no compunction about using a robocall program to contact me, usually about car repair warranties. Of course, why should I not hang up the moment I detect it’s a robocall?
What gets me is that a company thinks they can sell products and services to the general public without ever getting any direct feedback.
I owe this post to the folks at Futility Closet, one of my favorite websites. Apparently, the word “Hello” has a recent history. Although it was Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone, it was Thomas Edison who dictated what we said when we answered the call. In August 1877, he wrote a letter to the president of a telegraph company that was planning to introduce the telephone to Pittsburgh: “Friend David, I don’t think we shall need a call bell as Hello! can be heard 10 to 20 feet away. What do you think? EDISON.”
Edison’s thinking was that a bell was not necessary: The word “Hello” was sufficient to get the other party’s attention. It seems that we got the ringer anyway—as well as the word Hello.
It’s far better than what Alexander Graham Bell was planning to use as a greeting: “Hoy! Hoy!” By the time the caller stopped laughing, the call recipient would have hung up in frustration.
Nowadays, most of the calls I receive begin not with a greeting, but a click as some sort of machinery cranks up the robocall script. Perhaps I should just say, “Hoy! Hoy!” and hang up at once.
As I read the words, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rising. The book was Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night (1968), about a demonstration against the Pentagon against the Viet Nam war. At the time, I was also under the political influence of another Norman, my late friend Norman Witty, who was very active with the Los Angeles draft resistance movement.
This is a good look at the sort of thing that influenced me some half a century ago:
On a day somewhat early in September, the year of the first March on the Pentagon, 1967, the phone rang one morning and Norman Mailer, operating on his own principle of war games and random play, picked it up. That was not characteristic of Mailer. Like most people whose nerves are sufficiently sensitive to keep them well-covered with flesh, he detested the telephone. Taken in excess, it drove some psychic element of static ino the privacies of the brain; so he kept himself amply defended. He had an answer service, a secretary, and occasional members of his family to pick up the receiver for him—he discouraged his own participation on the phone—sometimes he would not even speak to old friends. He had the idea—it was undeniably oversimple—that if you spent too much time on the phone in the evening, you destroyed some kind of creativity for the dawn. (It was taken for granted that nothing respectable would come out of the day if the morning began on the phone, and indeed for periods when he was writing he looked on transactions vis telephone as Arabs look upon pig.)
To this day, I still feel that way about receiving telephone calls. Was it Mailer’s influence? Or is it some ornery impulse that makes it all right for me to make a call, but a damned imposition to receive one?
I was so impressed by Mailer writing about himself in the third person, with his occasional wry asides, that for many years I thought of him as America’s best essayist. Curiously, to this day I have not read any of his fiction, even his famous WW2 novel, The Naked and the Dead. Well, maybe later.