IT'S fascinating how the telephone – patented by Alexander Graham Bell a century and a half ago – shows no signs of age and in fact gets more active by the minute. Those of us who once relied on public pay phones can now fondly recall the highlights and lowlights of a world minus the beloved 'mobile'. Highlight: Finding a phone that vandals had not yet wrecked. Lowlight: Having to queuing outside a booth to make an urgent call – while a teenager laughed and giggled on the line with their latest love. There were other lowlights – such as those relating to cleanliness – but I don't want to ruin your day by dwelling on the grimy detail.
REMEMBER the frustration of having to return to the booths time and again when the person you needed to contact failed to answer your calls. At least technology has helped to solve that one with the messagebank. The public phone is not yet extinct but its importance to society has gradually waned. In the dim past, it was not uncommon to queue behind a payphone user with the latest edition of their paper in one hand as they raced to get the bargain, or the job. Underpinning the culture of classified advertising is the hard reality of the early bird getting the worm. And that remains pretty much the same in the buying and selling sections. Browsing the classifieds I often wonder how the response rates have changed over the years because of technology and the growth of the 24/7 mindset. It's all so easy nowadays. However, a psychiatric condition has developed like a dark cloud during the sunny advance of telecommunications technology.
'MESSAGEBANK phobia' is the hidden curse of the classifieds community, causing misery of lost sales and missed bargains. The cruel disability paralyses the vocal cords. Many must forever wonder about the person behind that mysterious silence before the welcome 'click' that ends the torture. Some may analyse the background noise to look for clues, call in a third party to confirm the clink of a glass or a roar of a starting motor, and check the caller ID list.
ON the other side of the line, the phobia sufferer grapples with some deep issues, such as: Why didn't they answer their phone? Was it because they were in the toilet? Has the item already been sold? Obviously, technology cannot supply a 'one size fits all' solution. My advice to advertisers would be to answer your phone whenever possible and use the messagebank only as a last resort. If an item has been sold, it doesn't take much effort to answer the phone and thank someone for their interest. That's just good old fashioned courtesy that can ease the suffering.
This column has appeared in The Redland Times.
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