Thursday, June 02, 2005

Call Circling

My home town is a favourite place for companies to test out new services and products, and the telephone industry is no exception. Over the past few months, we have been swamped by offers by a dizzying array of telephone company deals.
For reasons which remain a mystery, the telephone system in this country went completely bananas a few years ago. Due to the damaging impact of solar flares or the ozone hole or government deregulation or some other such disaster, the people who operate the country's telephone systems apparently lost their collective minds one day, and started to invent telephone services and deals clearly intended to drive the rest of us nuts too.
How else do you explain the concept of what I think is referred to as "Long-distance Happy Hour Calling Circles?" This peculiar marketing ploy was explained to me by an extremely cheerful voice over the telephone one afternoon, and it went something like this:
Cheerful Voice (explaining patiently for the second time): " if you call two people on your pre-selected Happy Hour Calling Circle list between the hours of five and eight on alternate Tuesday afternoons for the next six months and on one weekend of your choice as long as it is not a holiday, then your next non-business, person-to-person overseas' long-distance call placed on a Friday morning during the off-peak tourist season will be free. Unless, of course, the call is placed from one of your most frequently called numbers other than your home, in which case two of your best friends who are not related to you but living in a another province will receive twelve non-weekend local calls for free in exchange!"
To counter this enticing offer, a competing telephone company has cleverly developed a similar deal, except for the bit about free Tuesdays, which they have changed to Sundays, during which time all non-family long-distance calls are charged to your relatives in Moose Jaw who may or may not be eligible for a free cell phone which they can exchange for an oil and lube job at a service station of their choice.
And if all that isn't alluring enough to make us want to sign the various phone companies have also developed a whole battery of special services to lure consumers who had absolutely no idea they needed any of these services in the first place. Call Waiting, for instance, which is a service designed to alienate as many of your family, friends and business associates as possible by making them feel less important than the person calling you on another line. And Call Forwarding which allows people you don't want to speak with to track you wherever you are, a service not to be confused with Call Circling which is a method by which a call you are making never actually reaches anyone, but is continuously passed on from voice-mail box to voice-mail box in a never-ending version of a kind of communications perpetual motion machine.
And if you throw a cell phone into this witches brew of products and service plans, you can forget about ever trying to figure who pays what, what phone company you are with, and which services apply to you and which don't. Cell phone owners have come to take for granted the cryptic telephone messages they sometimes receive from cheerful, disembodied voices that say things like "Roam service charges now apply in Michigan," and "Long-distance charges will apply to all cell phones currently not in operation outside your area," and "Elvis has left the Continuum."
The upshot of all this is that many people are now afraid to pick up the telephone when it rings. People are learning that the only thing that is for certain in the uncertain world of modern telephone communications is that every time you use the phone it will cost somebody somewhere money. And the odds are good that the somebody forking out the dough to cover the monthly phone bills is either you, or an irate relative in Moose Jaw who will be calling you - collect - to find out what you think you are doing getting him involved in "Happy Hour Long-distance Call Circling" when you can't even be bothered sending him a Christmas card.
So please don't call us; we'll write you.
I’m Otte Rosenkrantz
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