Monday, November 5, 2012

Voice Spam

We use a Uniden cordless telephone on two floors. In the basement is a venerable old green telephone of the bygone age. To be sure it has push button dialing, but underneath it says, impressed into the brass plate, “Bell System Property, Not For Sale.” I spend my morning in that basement. And now, now that the season of voice spam is reaching its most hysterical boiling point, I make my coffee in the morning and then stick the cordless Uniden into my shirt pocket. It has a little screen, of course, and when the phone rings I look there to see if a family member, friend, or doctor’s office is on the other end. That helps a little. The current form of my Denial (of everything modern, that is), takes the form of pushing Talk and immediately afterwards pushing End. What the little Uniden lacks is a way of automating answering. I wish I could program it with a handful of numbers—and, at my option—cause it to hang up, automatically, on all the rest, indeed before it permits itself to ring.

A certain cost in time and effort goes into the creation of an automated telephone message. The school board candidate who just called me automatically (sometimes if rarely I do actually answer) probably had to visit a studio, may have paid for parking, spent some time before (writing, honing, practicing his message), recording it, and the listening to the result. He had help, and help must be compensated. Then there is the cost of getting it on the air and programming it to call a set number of numbers—the acquisition of which has a cost as well. Money.

At last the call comes to interrupt me. Such phenomena of disembodied persuasion always make me wonder if anybody is actually moved to any kind of useful action from which the candidate benefits. I doubt it. Faith in the power of advertising, however, is bottomlessly deep. The philosophers who claim that reality is Pure Will can take comfort from such behavior. Money is no object if you believe—believe in the fulfillment of your wish. And those who sell this kind of ethereal Brooklyn bridge at least get paid in real dollars.

Nor can I sanction those who call me—by carefully noting their names and not voting for them because they called. Those I’ve long ago decided to support also call. And even that inconvenience won’t change my mind. In some still extremely dim future, humanity will look back on the Magic those people believed in. And some, in that future, will try to practice it too—only to discover that it doesn’t really work.

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