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I’ve been putting together a system for reading and replying to Usenet News offline, and it’s working rather nicely. Tonight I’ve been reading alt.fan.pratchett, and replying to an off-topic thread about Modern Assumptions:

My pet Modern Assumption peeve: the cellphone.

I think I was born a hundred years too late. A century ago, there was a certain protocol involved in contact between people: you arrived at the front door and presented your calling card, and the occupant of the house could agree to meet you, or not. When the telephone arrived, it was greeted with genteel horror. “Do you mean”, asked the upper classes, “that a stranger can pick up this… instrument… place a call, and a bell rings in your house, demanding to be answered? Put the cursed thing downstairs, with the servants!”

After World War II, the development of automatic exchanges brought the telephone to the masses, but the hoi-polloi still resisted the idea. Why, _anyone_ could be on the other end of the line! Fast forward to the 90’s, and we can carry the telephone around with us. Now, anyone can call up and interrupt me at any time! Excellent!

So, now that everyone has a cellphone, you don’t mind giving me your number, right? Go to the optician to order contacts, they want your number to call you when they arrive. Place an order on the internet, they want your number “just in case”.

Time for countermeasures. Caller ID? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but if you don’t… you have to explain why, later. No, I have a better way: I frankly enjoy telling people “No, I don’t have a phone, I am _not_ available after hours, you have no reason to call me anyway. If you do, it’s because you want something from me, for free, at all hours, and you’re not paying me enough for that.”

Full disclosure: I did telephone support for exactly one year before being promoted out of it, which has ruined the telephone for me for life. The thing is: I was promoted to a higher-level support role, where being available after hours ia a positive liability. When a customer has an emergency, and “first level” can’t sort it out, we can find ourselves rudely awakened because some faceless manager halfway to Bangalore got a number from somewhere.

That hasn’t happened to me, since my last cellphone has sat in a drawer for three years. There’s a landline in my house, for a housemate’s job, but not even I have that number, far less my boss. Look at any large corporation, and you will notice that jobs involving customer contact are near the bottom of the tree: the ones involving contact by phone are down there with the moles and earthworms. Do you think Michael Eisner (Disney) or Carly Fiorina (HP) get people calling them up asking for stuff? That’s what Secretaries are for.

Cries of “Luddite!” don’t go in one ear, they miss my head altogether. And before someone says “you’re cutting yourself off from society” or the like, they should ask themselves: how did people manage 20, 50, or 100 years ago?

OK, next time I find myself looking for a job I may consider a landline and an answering machine, to screen all calls. But by then I’ll probably have access to broadband internet, meaning that e-mail will be nearly instant if I need it to be. What I will not give people is the ability to thoughtlessly interrupt me, just because they have a problem that they want to share. Sorry.

Bloomin’ ‘Eck! That felt good. Rant over.

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Written by brian t

June 17, 2004 at 10:27 pm

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