I’ve been watching Seinfeld’s reruns recently, and one device has always puzzled me. The phone machine. It is a critical element in almost every episode and plays a central part in a few. And yet I have never owned such a device.
A landline was itself a luxury while I was growing up. Very few homes in the neighbourhood had them. Even we got it pretty late. I remember when we eventually did, our house became a switchboard, and we were the telephone operators—connecting folks all over to ones in our neighbourhood.
We received calls at home and took the messages. Sometimes, my parents held the line while I, being the only kid in the house, ran to the neighbour’s home to invite them to receive the phone call.
It was all fun, to be frank. It felt good to hear the stories after the phone call. No one left away without sharing what the call was all about. A few wanted to add more context to what we unintentionally heard on one heard by narrating what was said on the other. It all felt customary.
We never had an answering machine. There was no way to leave a message for us while we were away. So instead, I was the answering machine for others while they were away.
Also, I am not sure I would be comfortable using such machines. I could never convey the message on the spot in short. All I would say is, “Call me back”. What else can one say without rambling on and on?
So when I see these machines screw up the main characters' lives in the shows like Seinfeld and Friends, I only chuckle. You know, I have been an answering machine, and we tend to screw up.