Don’t Answer, It’s the Phone

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Look at that dapper gent!

I’ll be up & at ’em early tomorrow, dressing for this year’s Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, an international event to raise money for prostate cancer research. In addition to the half-helmet and old-time goggles I normally sport, I’ll be wearing a blazer and tie. Donna’s sewing leather elbow patches on the blazer to give it that college prof look, and I have a briar pipe to put in the breast pocket. That should cover the dapper dress part of the DGR; the classic or vintage motorcycle I can’t do much about, but at least my ride’s clean and hella sparkle.

This year, for the first time since I started participating in DGRs, a motorcyclist friend is joining me. I’ve been telling everyone how much fun these rides are, and someone finally listened. Dave and I are meeting at an agreed point at 8 AM tomorrow and riding to the start together. There will be, barring a disaster, photos … maybe even some video.

I’m reading a book on how technology has affected the way we speak and write: “Because Internet” by Gretchen McCullough. I joined AOL in 1990, wrote my first website in raw HTML in 1995, and started blogging in 2004; between that and my later embrace of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram I feel comfortably up-to-date on internet writing conventions. I quit double-spacing between sentences long ago, and am on the record as a pioneer in the movement to lowercase “internet.” So a lot of what Gretchen McCullough has to say in her book is old hat to me, but she says what she has to say in elegant and engaging prose, and I’m having fun reading it. She has me thinking about things I’ve been taking for granted, like how I answer the phone.

You see, before she writes about how people answer calls on mobile devices, she backs up to the earliest days of landline telephones, when people were taught to say “hello” or “ahoy.” Ahoy (the salutation Alexander Graham Bell tried to popularize) didn’t catch on, but hello did, and people continue to answer by saying hello in the mobile phone age.

I’m sure it wasn’t just my family, but we were raised by parents who thought answering the phone with an anonymous hello was rude. We were taught to answer by saying “Woodford residence,” similar to the way receptionists answer with a cheery “Doctor Smith’s office,” or “Acme Plumbing.” It became an ingrained habit, and to this day I answer our landline with “Woodford Residence.” I’m glad mom and dad raised us kids right. The way most people mumble “hello” when they answer your call, it sounds like “duh” or “huh.” Might as well just grunt. But it’s better than “ahoy,” I guess.

A benefit of answering the phone with a crisp business-style salutation is that it’s an effective filtering tool in this age of spam and robo-calls. “Woodford residence” confuses telemarketers and automated recordings that key off “hello” and its variations.

[phone rings]

Woodford residence!

[silence]

[sound of me hanging up]

You might think from all this that technology hasn’t changed my telephone behavior, but you’d be wrong: I don’t say “Woodford residence” when I answer my iPhone. When someone calls that number, they’re not calling the house, they’re calling me. I answer by saying “This is Paul.” Although I haven’t finished Ms McCullough’s mobile phone chapter, I’ll be surprised if she writes about people who answer their cell phones the way I do. (Update: reading further, I see that she does. After discussing the debate over the rudeness of “hello” and “hi,” she mentions that many answer cell phones with their own name. I appear to be not so special, after all).

Friends on Facebook and Twitter complain about getting spam calls and robocalls on their cell phones. I get them too, though not nearly as many as on the landline (now that all but one or two of our older relatives have passed on, all our landline calls are spam calls, and the only reason we keep the damn thing is because Verizon gives us a better monthly rate with it than without it). Are mobile spam calls really a problem, though? I don’t answer calls from numbers I don’t recognize. If the caller’s legit, they’ll leave voicemail and I can call back. And with the latest iOS update to the iPhone, you can set it to not ring at all if the caller’s number isn’t on your contact list.

Our old landline doesn’t show caller numbers, but it does record messages, so there’s really no reason to answer it either. But it sits on my office desk and if it rings while I’m at the desk I answer, just in case it’s one of those older relatives. But really, it’s mostly because I love saying “Woodford residence” and listening to the bewildered silence that follows.

I suppose, since I’m babbling about tech, I should finish the saga of our insane data-use rates. In June, July, and August we went over our monthly data use limit. Our monthly allowance from Xfinity, our internet provider, was a terabyte of data. When we used more we got charged for it. I visited the Xfinity office to see if they could help identify the problem. They gave me a new wi-fi modem, with which I created a new home wi-fi network with a new password, ruling out piggybacking neighbors as a potential problem. On another visit, they turned me on to a free company app that lets me track and turn off wi-fi connected devices in the house. We hit the data limit again in the middle of September, so I made another trip to the Xfinity office.

This time they scheduled an installation technician to the house to check our connections and cabling. He came two days ago. Everything is fine. There is no “data leak,” any more than there’s a “secret server” with Hillary Clinton’s erased emails. The leak, as I had come to suspect, is us. Or, rather, it’s probably Polly … but I’m a pretty heavy user too, so maybe it’s the two of us. In addition to physically checking things at our end, they gave me a very good deal on a plan that includes for-real unlimited data, backdating it to the beginning of September. I could probably get an even better deal if I agreed to switch our phone service from Verizon to Xfinity (which would also let me ditch the landline with no penalty), but I’ll hold off on that for now. Or, rather, Donna told me to hold off for now. Aunt J_____ might still have the landline number on speed dial.

It’s all about meeting everyone’s needs, isn’t it?

Anyway, said needs are now met and we can use all the data we want … but since one of the things I learned along the way is how Netflix’s streaming TV service uses data whether we’re watching or not, I’m still going to turn the Firestick doohickey off every night. Just to spite ’em.

© 2019, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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2 comments to Don’t Answer, It’s the Phone

  • Robin Wolfson

    Our landline is only for fax (extremely rare) and DSL service. Yes, we live in the boonies, so we still have DSL.

    When I answer my cell phone, I already know who’s calling, so I answer as if ‘m speaking directly to that person in a conversation, as in “Greetings. How are you and have you gotten a decent phone yet?” Or “Thank god you finally called me, I’ve been worried.” Unfamiliar numbers I don’t answer at all.

  • Paul Woodford

    Robin, you zeroed in on my lack of logic in answering my cell phone. Yes, I do know who’s calling, but I still identify myself. I do like the way you jump right in when we talk on the phone, though. I should consider doing the same, but I am the type who pauses on the diving board before leaping off. And I should have mentioned that “Woodford residence” has over the years become “Woodfords.”

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