For Whom the Phone Tolls

Democracy called our house the other day.

"Hello!" My daughter answered. Long pause. "OK, but I'm not old - Hey, they hung up!"

It was a machine urging her to vote. In the United States this past week, candidates were dialing for voters. "We placed a million calls this weekend," one pol bragged.

I'm all for voting. But a computer-generated reminder is part of why our relationship with the telephone is changing.

This is where Teen Daughter rolls her eyes, "You're not going to tell us about the good ol' days before compact discs, again?"

Yup. Remember when the jangle of a phone triggered expectancy? Before the Age of Telemarketing and Instant Polls reduced Alexander Graham Bell's invention to a loathsome interruption, a phone call was something special - a friend or relative on the line. Not a stranger with a low, low interest rate on credit-card transfers made before midnight on the third Tuesday after the winter solstice.

Ameritech, sensing a business opportunity, recently began offering folks in Chicago and Detroit an electronic Privacy Manager ($3.95 per month). It interrogates callers before passing the call along to you. If they won't say who's calling, it disconnects the call.

But maybe the Ameritech solution won't be necessary. USA Today reports that people aren't answering the phone as much. In fact, it says, falling response rates over the past five years are casting a pall over the future of the phone as data collector and solicitor.

Gee, that's terrible.

I wonder if we could speed this trend along. A California relative uses this method to reduce these calls: "Son, do you have a pencil? Yes? Then use it to scratch out my name and don't call here again."

How do you politely reduce the din of unwanted calls at home? Tell us what works for you.

* We're home. Let us know how we're doing. Write to the Homefront Editor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail home@csps.com

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