You think cell phone use is annoying?

Let’s take a little trip back in time. (Strike up the eerie music …)

Remember back to the days of “cordless” phones and answering machines, if you will. And I won’t even get into business directories: Please press 1 for an alphabetical listing of an employee whose name we haven’t programmed into the system. Press 2 for the last name of a person who never worked here! Press 3 if you know the extension of the person you are calling but who’s on vacation and won’t refer you to someone to take care of that urgent need of yours! We Value Your Business! Click!

The telephone answering machine came into wide use in 1984 after AT&T restructured into a Baby Bell and became the biggest technological disrupter ever. We wouldn’t see the likes of this kind of dismay until they created cable TV “packages” and the TSA.

Answering machines were a box about the size of a hardbound book that sat next to — if you were a real techno-nerd — a phone the size of a shoebox called a “cordless telephone.”

I know I’m really pushing the limits of my credibility with millennials out there, but it’s true. Ask your parents — or probably better, your grandparents.

With these cordless phones, you could sometimes even walk about 5 feet away from the “hook” (the charging box the “receiver” (the ear part) rested on when not in use) and hold a conversation! Sometimes the person talking with you might be physically located all the way NEXT DOOR!!! It was stunning technology.

The answering machine had a tiny cassette tape in it. You “programmed it” by pressing RECORD and PLAY at the same time and yelling at the machine. “WE’RE NOT HOME RIGHT NOW!!! (What do I say next? — I don’t know .. anything …) SO LEAVE A MESSAGE!”

Then you’d run to your neighbor’s house, call home, leave a message, return home and listen to it! Oh, such fun! We could do this for hours.

Sometimes you could even understand the message! “Hi, this is skeeeee … nd I skeeeeee … 59. Tha-skeeeeeee!!!”

Oh, people loved it. AT&T loved it that people loved it, and started charging people by the minute.

Well, answering machine technology has not advanced far, in my opinion. It’s just smaller.

For example, why — oh, please, tell me why! — do they still say, “Please leave your message at the beep. When you are done with your message, hang up, or press 5 for more options. BEEP!”

Don’t we know this by now?

Answering machines were greatly improved when you could screen calls by listening to the message as someone was leaving it. People whose machines didn’t have those capabilities, however, learned how to keep people, particularly bill collectors, from calling.

My friend Rachel recorded a very, very, very long cello etude on her machine before she’d say she wasn’t home and instructed the caller to leave a message. She couldn’t figure out why no one ever did.

Hello?! We got CHARGED for that 10 minutes of cello-playing! And while she was a good cellist, the answering machine made her playing sound like a cat being run over by a Mack truck! For 10 minutes.

There are still people who let their kids record the message: “Hi.” (Long pause.) “This is … mrjgh … Eddie and …”

BACKGROUND: Say, ‘This is the Marks!’

EDDIE: I AM! This is Eddie … mrtwgrmw ... the Marks … (long pause)

BACKGROUND: Say, ‘Leave a message!”

EDDIE: STOP IT! (breaks into sobs. Click.

PARENTS, later, explaining: Oh, we love it — don’t you just love it! It’s so cute! We’re going to save it until his wedding day! Won’t that be so funny! Until then, we get to share it with everyone who calls when we’re not home!


PHONE: When you are done leaving a message, hang up, or dial 5 for more options. When you are done leaving a message …