I don't think this is what Alexander Graham Bell had in mind.
When the brilliant inventor uttered the famous words, "Watson, come here, I want to see you" into his new-fangled sound transmitter, I doubt he could have imagined that - 132 years in the future - a frazzled woman, frantically trying to put dinner on the table, would pick up her cordless phone, only to hear:
"Hi! This is Kelly from All-Right Insurance Company with a message about your insurance policy. It is VITALLY important you call me back IMMEDIATELY so I can tell you how to save a SIGNIFICANT amount of money on your PREMIUMS ..."
"Kelly," I cut in. "Kelly, hold up. Doesn't All-Right Insurance know I'm on the National Do Not Call list?"
She continues, as if she hasn't heard a word I said: "If you call NOW, you can expect a 15 to 25 percent REDUCTION in your quarterly ..."
"KELLY! Yoo-hoo! Take a breath! Didn't your mother teach you not to interrupt someone when they're talking?"
But she rambles on, undaunted. "And if you call in the next FIVE MINUTES, you'll get a FREE review of your home, auto, life and boat insurance by one of our certified ..."
"Stop, Kelly, stop!" I scream, as I bang on the receiver with my spatula.
Then it hits me. Kelly isn't real. Kelly is an automatron. I must be on the receiving end of a robocall.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm no Janie Come Lately. I've gotten automated sales calls before. But, these days, it's getting harder to tell real from robotic, and it's making me batty.
Some robocalls are easy to detect. First, there's the suspicious pause after you say "Hello?" Then, there's the telltale click, followed by the voice like "Star Wars" droid C-3PO, without the British accent:
"Hel-lo. I have some im-por-tant in-for-ma-tion a-bout your cre-dit card ..."
Those are no-brainers. I hang up, utter the compulsory cuss word and move on.
But sometimes, automatrons can really do a number on you.
One night during presidential primary season, the phone rang at dinnertime. Seething and swearing, I ripped the phone out of its cradle and cried, "This better be good, my tuna surprise is losing its shock value as we speak!"
Then, I heard a deep, familiar voice say, "Hi, this is Barack Obama."
"Barack!" I swooned, melting into a pool of butter right there on the floor. "How sweet of you to take time out of your busy schedule to call! How's Michelle? And the kids?"
The candidate didn't seem to hear me. He kept talking about change, and believing, and a new America for all. I was inspired enough to abandon my casserole, sit down, and give him my full attention.
"I believe, Barack!" I said, sensing an opening in the conversation. But, the man kept talking. Suddenly, I realized he was saying these very words, not just to me, but to hundreds - if not thousands - of voters across the country at that very moment. This wasn't Obama. This was RoboObama! My gentleman caller was an Obamamatron!
My heart sank. I felt bewildered, betrayed. Not to mention imbecilic.
Since then, I've honed my inner spam detector and have no trouble discerning real from recorded phone solicitations.
(But the larger point here is, I'm on the freakin' NATIONAL 'DO NO CALL' LIST! So, please. DO. NOT. CALL!)
Still, I wonder what old Aleck Bell would think about how his invention is being used to keep modern families from enjoying a peaceful evening meal.
According to Wikipedia, "Bell considered his most famous invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study."
Hmm. A brilliant inventor, indeed.