The CURSE of instant communication

Opinions - January 26th, 2001
Robert J. Collins

by Robert J. Collins

There is a place in hell—deep in its bowels where the most primordial of glowing embers exceed the temperature of the sun’s core (at high noon) and where the sense of desolation is compounded by Satan’s pitchfork-wielding minions standing guard and belting out for eterni­ty karaoke ditties a half-note off-key— into which friends and acquaintances in this age of instant communication are condemned and forevermore cast for their singular sin.

And the singular sin—the causative factor for a deserved and fiery punishment stretching beyond eons of pain and suffering? The singular sin is absent and/or garbled return phone numbers and addresses.

The absent number or address problem started with the advent of the answer phone. “Hi. This is Jill. Give me a call as soon as you can. I have great news. Click.”

Now, unless Jill is your wife, daughter, business associate, lover or next-door neighbor, one must assume the recipient of the message has at least a rudimentary system for matching names with numbers so as to respond to the “give me a call” demand.

But, hey: why is that burden of creating a rudimentary system on me? Would it kill Jill to report her phone number so as to give her a call? I don’t know how many Jills there are out there whose calls I have not returned—none of them wives, daughters, business associates, lovers or next-door neighbors—but the number must be approaching over the years close to a thousand. And this is the age of instant communication?

The garbled number or address problem is more complex. It means the person sending the message believes he or she has covered all the bases and if there is any blame to be attached—serious blame to be sure—it is attached yet again to the good old recip­ient.

“Hi, this is Roger,” said my bud­dy Roger (The Dodger)—his voice clear as a bell on the answer phone. “I’m worried about you. You don’t answer my messages. Give me a call.” The Dodger then proceeded to report his phone number. Brilliant.

“Country code sixty-one,” he said clearly and distinctly. The Dodger lives in Australia. “City code is two,” he said equally distinctly. He lives in Sydney. “And the phone number is…”

But here The Dodger went into the standard and predictable garbled phase. He knows his own phone number like… well, like his own phone number. “Sees-fi-fi-one Adouble forx-ku-ept Tee,” rattled off The Dodger in less than a half-second. Eh, what? Four adults standing around in my living room listened to the tape a dozen times. We couldn’t even agree as to how many numbers were involved, let alone what those damn numbers were.

And then to make matters worse, heaping more undeserved guilt on the poor old recipient, I went upstairs to my office and there was an e-mail message from The Dodger in which he stated he was “really worried” that I was not returning messages. Did he include his e-mail address in his mes­sage? No, folks, The Dodger did not. He managed to pull off both an absent address and garbled numbers in two media in one day—a double double.

To be fair (which I’m sometimes loathe to be), Weekender’s Jim Merk tells me it’s always possible to extract a sender’s e-mail address from the innards of my computer, but since I’m operating with a “third generation” program, I’d have to make several clever moves manipulating Japanese software to get to it. That ain’t my bag. My clever moves on the computer have caused more crashes than a drunk in Roppongi. (And then I’d have to go back to Merk—who really knows what he’s talking about, so pay attention to what he writes—to bail me out yet again.)

The point still remains however. Why do people assume we recipients always maintain complete and up-to-date files on other people’s personal data? Not everyone is as organized as we probably should be, but where’s the big problem in repeating the personal data? “You already have my card, said the guy I ran into on the street the other day. He’s right. Maybe 10 years ago he gave it to me. Do I have it now? What do you think? Aid where’s the damage in giving me another one?

I just received a Christmas card from a guy I’ve been trying to track down for almost a year. He moved from Japan to South Africa, changing his e-mail address along the way. He sent me his new address, but I subse­quently lost it during a computer upgrade. I finally caught up to him with “snail mail” in a third country where he has since moved. His card answered my question about his e-mail address. “Same as before,” he wrote. Aaaaaagghhh.