Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Your Call Is Important To Us. Really.


(Originally published in County Living Magazine, Early Spring 2017)

It all began in 1896 when Mr. Bell spoke into a strange looking device. “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” Watson heard and came running, quite excited. Over the past 120 years, we have evolved to the point where the leader of the free world tweets his thoughts to millions from his smart phone. I guess that’s some form of progress. 
Yes, the telephone is one of the most powerful and versatile tools ever invented. Better than the microwave, power steering, and even the cotton gin. I’m not sure what the cotton gin is but my history book said it was important. I was going to add Slinky in here, since I saw one at a History Museum exhibit recently. But Slinky has limited uses. Like one.
I imagine a segment of our population doesn’t know what a dial telephone is. In fact, they may not even be familiar with the word “telephone.” They use smart phones, iPhones, cell phones, Galaxy, and things I’ve never heard of. Whatever you call it, whatever is in your pocket or within reach is still, at heart, a telephone. A communications device. Also a recording device. Sound and picture.
Here’s what got me into this telephone frame of mind. Recently I learned something about phone calls that surprised me. Pay attention. This is important. Your phone call can be recorded without your knowledge or approval. That’s right. Forty-two out of fifty states, including Missouri,  legally permit the other party to record your phone conversation.
I started thinking about this when I called a credit card company about an item that showed up on my statement, an item I didn’t remember buying. I dialed (strange word, “dialed”) the 800 number, which took me efficiently through my options, which I made note of because “the menu had changed recently.” How often do they change these menus? Seems like every 48 hours. This was after I pressed “1” because I don’t speak Spanish, except for “la cerveza” and “donde esta el bano?”(“Beer” and “Where’s the bathroom?”).
When I got to my destination, I was greeted with this news: “This call may be recorded for quality and training purposes.” You’ve heard that before, right? We’ve known of it for several years. Only now, after I completed my inquiry - it was for two bags of Irish oatmeal, called porridge, that I bought on Amazon - I hung up. That’s also a quaint notion. “Hang up,” as in “Replace the receiver on the cradle.” Anyway, I began to wonder about my recording session. 
How would they use my call for “quality purposes”? I talk pretty well on the phone but I wouldn’t call it quality conversation. Maybe they look for unusual attitude or unexplained hesitations. Is it my quality they listen to, or their employee’s quality?  And what about that “training purposes” thing? “Training who?” I wondered. I picture a classroom full of eager “sales associates” hanging on my every phrase, the instructor replaying my words while pointing out how nervous I sound underneath my glib remarks, obviously worried if someone has hacked my credit card or I was overcharged and had no chance to get a refund. You never know. 
But mainly I wondered if they had the legal right to do this. If perhaps they needed my agreement to be recorded. A few minutes with Google and I had my answer. Yes, they can. And only one party need agree. I also found out the real reason for this intrusion. It is to insulate the company from lawsuits. “Quality and training purposes” sounds a lot friendlier than, “If you’re thinking about suing us, don’t. You’ll lose.”
Look, I’ve got enough things to worry about besides my recorded calls. In a way, it’s nice to know I’m creating some kind of legacy. Maybe they will issue a “Best Phone Calls of the Year” someday. I’m sure mine will be included. Especially the one about porridge.

Breakfast Tip: This might be the best oatmeal you've ever had. I got it through Amazon. It's really made in Ireland! Try the variety with fruit bits in it too. Great way to start your day. 


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