I realize that for many even the answering machine above on the right is obsolete, replaced by systems built into cell phones. Still, we still use the machine and I have been thinking about the way it replaced and changed the practice of answering the phone and taking a message.
When I was a child, we had one phone on the first floor of a three story home. Eventually my parents added a phone in their room on the second floor. Throughout my growing up, one frequent yell was “Will someone please get the phone,” followed by an adult shouting “Will someone pick up the g…d… phone!” Eventually one of us four kids would answer the obnoxious unceasing ring.
Now the problem, which each of us had avoided by not answering the phone, arose. We were to say(though we rarely remembered) “Hello, this is the L…. house, Betsy speaking.” Then we would hear a request to speak to one of our parents. We would find a parent who would ask, “Who is it?” Running back to the phone we were to say “Who should I say is calling?”(another phrase to forget.) Then back to the parent who would replay, “Take a message.” Then back to the phone with “May I please take a message?” Then the frantic search for a pencil and paper while the caller waited. And waited. And waited.(maybe there was a pencil in the mixed-up drawer.)
Finally, pencil and paper in hand only to discover that either the caller had hung up, tired of waiting, or the caller said,”Never mind, I will call back.” The reaction when we returned without a message was to be avoided. No wonder no one would ever answer the phone!