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Beyond the Call

February 16, 2000

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I need to make a phone call. Deciding that is the easy part. The rest is pretty complicated.
I don’t know whether to use my home phone, a cordless phone, a cell phone or a pay phone. If I use my home phone, should I use the one with the speed-dial feature, the one with the speakerphone feature, the one with the Caller ID display or the one with the built-in answering machine? If I use a cordless phone, should I use the one with two channels, six channels or 10 channels? Should I use the one with the two-day battery or the five-day battery?
OK, so maybe I should use a cellular telephone. Should I use an analog phone? A digital phone? The one that lets me read my e-mail? One that doubles as a two-way radio? The one that connects to the Internet? One with the hands-free feature? One with the dialing-by-voice feature?
If I use a pay telephone, should I use one owned by the regular telephone company or an independently owned outfit? Should I pay $5 a minute at one pay phone or try to find one that charges less?
Maybe I should use a card when I use the pay phone. Should I use my AT&T card or my Bell Atlantic card? Should I charge it to Sprint, MCI or some company that wants me to dial “10-10” first? Should I forego the calling card and use a pre-paid telephone card, or a credit card or my check card or debit card?
If I use a pre-paid phone card, should I buy it at the drug store, the supermarket or the convenience store? Is there a pre-paid phone card store at the mall?

I don’t know whether to pay full price, 10-cents a minute, 7-cents a minute or 5-cents a minute. Should I pay a buck for 20 minutes or a buck for 10 minutes? If I use the 20-minutes-for-a-dollar rate, what happens if I talk for 15 minutes?
Maybe I shouldn’t pay at all. Maybe I should call collect. But should I call collect through my regular phone company or should I use one of the special collect-call outfits?
Is the person I’m calling in the 609 area code or the 856 area code? My home number is in the 856 area code, but what about my cell phone and my electronic pager? Which area code are they? I think there’s a difference but sometimes I need an area code when calling home from my cell phone and other times I don’t. Why is that?
Is calling directory assistance free or isn’t it? Why do I have to choose before I get the number I’m looking for if I want it dialed automatically? Why do they think I am so lazy I can’t dial the number myself? And why does James Earl Jones have to butt in to every telephone call I make? He has a lovely voice, but, frankly, I am way past tired of hearing it.
This is all more confusing than making a phone call should be. I want my phone calls to be invisible. It’s supposed to be about the conversation, or the information I give or get on the phone, not the act of making the telephone call.
But wait! I reached an automated telephone system! Press 1 for this, 2 for that and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 for the other. Press 0 if you have no idea what other number to press. Which button is the panic button?
Hey! It’s voice mail! What’s the extension of the person I’m trying to reach? If I don¹t know the extension number, will it ask me to start spelling the name of the person I am trying to reach? Do I need a Personal Identification Number? What about a passcode?
If I call from the new superphones in the office, which buttons do I press? MSG? DND? SPKR? VM? How the heck do I PROG this phone, anyway?
Sheesh. Now I forget who I wanted to call.
Maybe I should just use the mail.
Should I use e-mail or snail mail? What’s the ZIP code?
Jim Six writes for the Gloucester County Times in New Jersey's 856 area code where Bell Atlantic spokesman James Earl Jones -– the voice of Darth Vader himself – is frequently heard.


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