Call and Lack of Response


My iPhone rang this afternoon.

To most people, this would probably not be a spectacular development, but I’m in that growing portion of the population who uses my phone for virtually everything but talking. If I had to list the things for which I use my phone the most, it would probably look like this:

  1. Text-messaging
  2. Listening to music
  3. Reading the Internet
  4. Checking email
  5. Reading and posting to Twitter
  6. Reading Facebook
  7. Checking into places on Foursquare
  8. Taking pictures
  9. Playing Scrabble
  10. Checking bus schedules
  11. Acting as an alarm clock for my couch-based naps
  12. Helping me figure out where I’m going
  13. Reminding me what songs to sing at karaoke
  14. Logging into games
  15. Checking in on baseball scores (in-season only)
  16. Ensuring that my front-right pocket feels as full as I’m used to it feeling
  17. Talking

My point here is that my phone rarely serves as such; I pay for 450 voice minutes per month, but this month, I’ve spent more time listening to live renditions of LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” than I have actually talking on the phone. But the reason I do all of those non-talking things with my phone more than I talk on it is because I can, because my phone is so powerful that talking on it would almost be a waste. For some time, Apple’s slogan for it—”There’s an app for that.”—was build around the fact that the phone functions best when not being used as such.

And yet, some of the most common-sense features remain left out.

When my phone rang this afternoon, the call was coming from a 973 number, and the other end sounded like a fax machine, so naturally, I hung up. A Google search for the number revealed nothing except that it was coming from northern New Jersey (not unlike I did, a couple decades ago); as I searched, the phone rang again, and the same number appeared on the screen.

I let this second call go to voicemail, but minutes later, answered a third call and hung up immediately; as soon as I hung up, I dialed the number back. It took three tries to get through, but when I did, the following conversation ensued:

Indistinguishably accented voice on other end: “Hello?”

Me: “Hi. You’ve just called my number three times, and all I hear is beeping.”

Voice: “Yes, I sending fax.”

Me: “Well, this isn’t a fax number. You must have the wrong number.”

Voice: “Okay. Thank you.”

With that, I hung up, thinking the matter closed. And it was closed—for about two minutes. Then my phone rang again.

Fortunately, this fourth call was the last of them, but realistically, it never should have gotten that far. Somehow, my phone can communicate with satellites to pinpoint my location anywhere on Earth, but it can’t block a call before it gets to me.

Granted, there are ways to do this; I could jailbreak my phone and install an application to block whatever numbers I want (and if I did, the first thing I would block is the text message I get from AT&T telling me that my auto-payment has been received.) But should I really have to hack into my phone’s operating system to do this?

The whole situation reminded me of an article I read on Gizmodo last month about how an AT&T engineer developed an answering machine in 1934, but the company ordered him to abandon his research out of fear that the ability to record a conversation would make people afraid to use telephones. I suspect that much of the same corporate survivalist mentality is preventing the easy blocking of phone numbers right now; while wrong numbers are a nuisance to people on both ends of the call, they’re a boon to phone companies, who get to charge for both the misplaced call and the one to make up for it.

So it is, that my phone which is filled with dozens of features I would never use lacks one of the most obvious ones that I want, all so AT&T can make another dollar. The joke’s on them, though: I have more than 4,000 rollover minutes banked. No matter how many wrong numbers get through, they’re not going to get a cent more than my monthly $102.86.


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