Thursday, February 23, 2017

How to Use a Telephone

            You probably think that you already know how to use a telephone, and you are right. (I’m not referring to a cell phone, aka a “device,” which is an altogether different matter.)

            This really happened: Several years ago I was frustrated by the difficulty of actually speaking with a human being on the telephone. This was back in the days when rotary dial phones were still in use, and I figured that if I faked having an old rotary phone, I could skip the “If you want to pay more for your service, press 1” nonsense. This worked for a while: I could just wait out the robot and eventually talk to a person. But somehow the robots got on to my game. I knew this because one of the recorded messages said, “If you have a rotary phone, press 2.” Busted!
            Rand Cooper has written eloquently and amusingly about his struggles and eventual success in dealing with phone robots on his Commonweal blog (, so I won’t continue my rant. Read his.
            Any guide about using the telephone has to include suggestions about shortening the time waiting on hold. One tip: When given the option, say you speak Spanish. Even if you don’t, the line is probably shorter, and the person on the other end probably also speaks English, probably better English than the distant “customer service representative” you would get if you claimed to be non-Spanish-speaking. I’ve never actually tried this, but it’s probably worth a try.
            Another good use of the telephone is in negotiations with your cable provider. Many of you, like me, probably have a plan where your internet, television and phone services are “bundled,” sometimes pronounced “bungled.” You might try giving your provider a call, working through the tree of options, sitting through hold time, and then telling them that in order to lower your monthly payment that you want to drop phone service from your bundle. “But wait!” you might hear, “There’s a promotion going on right now, especially for loyal customers like you! And you can take advantage of it to lower the cost of your bundle!” We once saved about $15 per month by threatening to drop a phone service we did not use.
            You may also learn that your unbundled payment is actually higher without phone service. I did this last week after realizing that all of my landline calls were incoming rob-calls and the occasional police officer raising money for his organization, and learned that if I dropped my landline, my monthly bill would increase by $40 because I am already taking advantage of a promotion. I unplugged my phone and put it in storage. In doing so I gave up the pleasure of knowing that every time I heard the phone ringing that someone’s time and money was being wasted on me – another good use of the phone.

            Our current difficulties with phones may be a form of karma, which in this case is defined as cosmic-system revenge. When I was in college, an all-male New England college, my roommates and I would occasionally entertain ourselves on a winter evening by dialing Information in some city in Georgia or Louisiana. We just wanted to hear a woman’s voice, and the southern accent was an added bonus. It may have been due to southern courtesy, or it may have been because the calls were not being timed and monitored by unsympathetic supervisors, but some of those conversations went on for fifteen or twenty minutes. I remember a roommate discussing a recipe for pecan pie. So if you are frustrated with the amount of automation you encounter in dealing with your telephone, you have my apologies. It’s my fault. Karma.

Comments welcome at - any telephone tips you can suggest?


  1. First of all, I hate phones. I remember party lines and listening to other people's conversations. Now the government does that! We had a cell phone on our sailboat because the Coast Guard asks for your cell number. Forget the expensive marine radio that we used to use 30 years ago. I have a flip phone that I use when we travel. It is defunct at other times. We spent at least 45 minutes with AT&T and finally got a good deal for 2 years, without TV. It was about a $55 a month reduction. We said we were going to drop everything. It's amazing how that works most of the time. When I do get a real person on the line, one who I can understand, I'm shocked. Have had many good conversations with real people talking about the weather, music, sailing, gardening, and other topics.
    Someone asked me about going on Face Time and offering to help me set it up. Well, I didn't need any help because I'm sort of a computer geek. I told the person that there isn't anyone that I really want to talk to. She had this surprised look on her face.
    Enjoyed your blog, as usual. Keep up the good work!

  2. I'm going to try pressing 8 for Spanish. That's a wonderful idea.

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