Friday, December 16, 2005

Effective phone messages

I remember when phone answering machines were invented. Well, I don't actually remember when it was, but I remember the experience of everyone getting used to them. It takes several repetitions before you're comfortable with the idea of talking on the phone with no one talking back. My parents still leave messages that sound like they just realized they're on Candid Camera and they can't wait to hang up. But that's OK... they leave short messages that get right to the point. I, in turn, believe in a similar principle: most phone messages can have their meaningful content condensed down to ten seconds or less. It's in everyone's best interests if you just do that.

My wife is from an entirely different school of thought. She sees leaving phone messages as akin to having a captive audience. I'm pretty sure she gets it from her mother. They both start their messages as if they fully expected to reach a live person, and the whole idea that they haven't has thrown them into a tizzy, forcing them to recalibrate and share their thought processes with the machine while they get their sea legs. Here's a made up example from my NY Jewish mother-in-law, though it's really not far from the truth:
Essential content: "Call me on my cell - I have a question."

Actual message: "Oh. You're not there. Where did you go? Did you go to work already? Well I guess it doesn't matter where you went... you're not there, that's all there is to it. I wanted to talk to you about something. Call me back later... oh wait, depending on when you call me back I might not be home. I might be over at Paula's... you remember Paula. We used to go walking together when you and her daughter were just little girls. Oh what's her daughter's name again? You know what it is. I can't remember. We'd dress you up in these little red dresses and spend a few hours walking around the park. You remember that. Oh what was her name? I should really remember before I go over there. So I just happened to run into her the other day, and I hadn't seen her in years. It turns out she lives just right around the corner, can you believe that? So I'm going over for tea; that's why I might not be here. So don't call between 2 and 4, or maybe really not even before 5 my time. Oh wait, you could just call my cell phone and then I'd get it no matter where I was. Yeah, that's a good idea, just call my cell, and if it happens to be a bad time, I'll tell you. Or I'll just take a few minutes to ask you this other question. OK, love you Sweetie, don't forget to call."
Seriously, I'm not gonna listen to all of that. I press "save" somewhere around "Call me back later" and she can listen to it all. Julie wants me to listen to it all in case it ends with something important like "Now press 5 on the phone and save a hundred childen," but come on, it never does. I'm not wrong, am I?


J said...

Definitely not wrong.

My wife leaves similarly long messages, and they are occasionally fun to listen to. However, since cingular changed vm back to att, you can't erase the message until its over. However, I did find that if you press the 6 key, you can speed up the message. The more you press it, the faster it goes. Now THAT is entertainment!

The killer thing about my wife and messages, however, is that SHE never listens to the messages that I send her. She just calls back. So I find myself (a man of very few words) having to repeat myself to a live person. Ugh.

And yes, I can confirm that your wife does leave messages like that.

achiappanza said...

Message speeding... I like it.

Using fewer words is a sign of efficiency, not a sign of having less to say. Think of it as improved signal to noise ratio.

Excess words should only be used for style points, which do matter.

ivan said...

if you find overly long answering machine messages amusing (or want to), check out this website--

It's a collection of messages from her mother talking to the answering machine like it was a real person.

obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

Hmm, I'm a long message leaver like your wife. I tend to be the same with e-mail, I want to capture all the possibilities that would be likely to happen.

But I've been "captured" by long-winded VM as well too, so I can sympathize there. But I always listen to the whole thing, just in case there is something at the end that's pertinent. But I see your point that most times, there really isn't.

But I can't help me, it's my compulsion to try to cover all the bases that might be there to cover, mainly so that the other person will think about it before talking with me and it'll shorten up our actual conversation.

Plus I'm like you, I can remember when there were no VM but I still feel uncomfortable trying to leave a message, my wife has a good laugh usually listening to me leave one. I'm not a good phone person.

achiappanza said...

Ivan... pretty funny. Also New York Jews. Coincidence?

Martin... you remind me of my biz school professor who said, "Never call anyone unless you have at least three things to say."

This past week in New York I came to realize that too many directions were less useful than just the right amount. It dilutes your focus.

Julie Minoff aka "wife" said...

This might be another thing NY Jews and NY Italians have in common. Think Scarpelli.

Okay, I agree that at the end there is not a way you can save a hundred children but there IS often something sweet and loving and who can have too much of that?

I admit I'd like to feel I have more of a choice in whether I leave a long message or a concise one but I just get, well, you said it, I need sea legs. But your parents sound like robots.

That said, sometimes my mother's messages are too long. So are Kelly's (a white trash farm girl from Iowa so what's up with that?). But mine? Never. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Well, personally I think it's sweet that your Jewish mother-in-law leaves those long messages. Perhaps she and her daughter don't get to talk much and this is a way to communicate, touch the person, make her feel like they're together in a room.

And maybe your Jewish mother-in-law doesn't leave messages like that to anyone else.

Just think of that!

achiappanza said...

A kindly thought. But my wife and her mother talk all the time. They talk so much that they both have unlimited national calling plans on their land lines, plus cell phones with minutes in the thousands covered.