“Is Anyone Home???”        

  Issue 27

By:  Ron Brounes    

July 1999


The other day, I got nailed for failing to leave a message (actually several) on a friend’s answer machine.  If that was not bad enough, I lied about calling and was forced to suffer through the embarrassment when it was revealed that my named appeared multiple times on the caller ID.  I later learned that the individual I was attempting to contact was actually home for at least three of those calls, but simply “could not make it to the phone.” 


That experience caused me to pity those poor teenage boys who are undergoing the traumas of dating for the first time.  I remember the agony of writing out the entire conversation beforehand, and practicing out loud to make sure my voice did not crack in mid-sentence.  I remember dialing six numbers and then hanging up to practice just one more time.  I remember her father answering the phone and my bailing out again, so I would not have to speak with this much older and often scary man.  I remember it like yesterday.  (Actually, it WAS yesterday). 


And now, caller ID throws a completely new wrinkle into the frightful dating scene.  No longer can you simply hang up when the machine picks up, because your name and number are forever embedded on the display.  Not only that, but you have virtually no chance of catching the girl off-guard and receiving that hesitant “yes” to your invitation.  Caller ID allows her to screen the call and not be placed in that awkward situation of making up an excuse on the spot.  (I wonder if high school girls today are still compulsive about washing their hair?)




In my often ill-informed opinion, this miraculous age of communications in which we currently live has taken a giant step backwards with the invention of this gadget.  For years, technology has continued to evolve and allowed us to find new ways to communicate with each other.  The telephone, the fax machine, the cell phone, and now e-mail enable us to track each other down and pass along crucial information 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Caller ID is the optimum “anti-communications” device.  Essentially, we are saying, “I don’t want to talk with you so much, that I can’t possibly take that chance of answering your call.” 


Surely, situations arise when it would be helpful to be able to effectively screen calls.  We have all encountered that persistent telephone solicitor who simply cannot take “no” for an answer.  Ultimately, we find a way to get off the phone, but not before changing our long distance carrier, buying that “hot stock of the day,” or ordering that set of ginsu knives with our new “no annual fee” credit cards.  Of course, even caller ID cannot help us with these calls.  That “out of area” or “name unavailable” on the display trips us up every time. 




Caller ID has started to creep into the business world as well, and may ultimately replace that old reliable human version known as the receptionist or the executive secretary.  For years, business people have attempted to bypass that dreaded gatekeeper in order to make that elusive sales pitch to the powers-that-be.  That sole mission of the “human caller ID” was to keep you from speaking with her boss.  Some were quite rude, practically insisting on name, rank, and serial number before ultimately giving you the shaft.  Others were quite chatty, leading you to believe you had an actual chance of getting through, before making up an excuse that you had heard several times already (often that day). 


At least, with a live person, certain tricks of the trade occasionally worked.  The more effective business people were always up to a good challenge of fooling the secretary.  The old, “Is he in?” or “Is Bob (first name only) around?” insinuated that you and the boss were old buds.  Calling during the lunch hour often revealed a substitute gatekeeper who was far less astute at recognizing your voice and screening the call.  Occasionally, befriending this individual and establishing a sense of trust would pay dividends.  The screener may inform you as to the most appropriate time to call, or even reveal important facts about the boss that may lead to a “chance” meeting down the road. 




Unfortunately, caller ID is now hampering our abilities to communicate in the workplace.  The gatekeeper now has an unfair advantage and is less likely to slip up in her screening responsibilities.  The only way to overcome this phenomenon is to rely on other modes of communications to try to get your message across.  Write those letters, transmit those faxes, send those e-mails.  Try calling from the cell phone to fool them every now and then. 


Occasionally, “pop-in” to the office and claim you were “just in the neighborhood.”  Early morning “pop-ins” tend to work best.  The gatekeeper may not be in yet, while the boss is often an early riser.  It’s harder to reject someone in person than over the phone.  (Then again, I’ve found that certain people have no problem with this as well.)  Somehow, that all important message must be appropriately conveyed, so that the gatekeeper or boss may choose to not screen your calls in the future.  Like it or not, caller ID is here to stay.  And the art of effective communications just took one giant step backwards. 




I finally broke down and bought caller ID for myself, though certainly not to become one of those rude screeners.  I began to suspect that the lack of messages on my answer machine stemmed from insecure “chicks” hating the way their voices sounded on tape.  I wanted to make sure I did not miss out on any important phone calls.  As luck would have it, I purchased a faulty model which only seems to record those calls from my mother.  Fortunately, she always leaves a message. 


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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH is a publication of Brounes & Associates focusing on business marketing and general communications strategies. Please call Ron Brounes at 713-432-1910 for additional information. Brounes & Associates apologizes for any unfortunate experiences you may have encountered from any of my “rude” gatekeepers.  Please understand that screening my calls is an extremely stressful responsibility.  Those long distance company solicitors can be quite relentless.