Saturday, July 25, 2015

Family Tech: Ways to step away from a landline phone - July 24, 2015

When Bell Systems first began wiring the nation for the telephone, it must have seemed almost magical to a nation still recovering from the Civil War.

This week, I started to kill that magic.

As a kid in the 60s, a long-distance telephone call was special, frightening and horribly expensive. If Grandma called from Florida, I might get to say a quick “Hi,” but anything else was too expensive. One didn’t call long distance without a specific agenda, sometimes even a script.

And now, most phone calls within the country are free as part of your base service and even international calling is affordable. Yet, I am taking steps to avoid phone calls.

There are simply faster, less intrusive ways to contact people and to be contacted.

I feel guilty now calling someone. Are they alone or am I interrupting? Are they napping, in a meeting, having a moment with their loved one and forgotten to silence their phone? Are they likely to answer while driving, so my call is unsafe?

And I might find an incoming call inconvenient for any of those reasons. Yet, I am forced to be polite and responsive to a caller.

And most infuriating is that most of the calls that come into our landline are solicitation calls. Businesses, charities and the like call constantly asking the same question to which they have already received a negative answer from the 99 times they called before. Do Not Call lists and polite requests to never call again do not work for me.

There also are the lovely people from Microsoft Technical support calling to helpfully tell me they have found a virus on my PC. Of course, it isn’t Microsoft, but scammers hoping I’ll follow their directions to add malware to my PC they can use to steal my private information.

I decided enough was enough.

This week I recorded a new outgoing message for our landline: “Hello. We are no longer answering this phone due to the high volume of calls without a valid caller ID. The best way to reach us is by texting or calling our individual cell phones. You may also contact us by emailing <my email address> which may reach us faster than leaving a voicemail. Voicemails may not be listened to in a timely manner. Thank you.”

After recording it, I turned off the ringers to the landline phones.

I’d cancel the landline altogether, but it is better audio quality than my cell often times. If someone calls me at home on my cell and the quality is not good, I’ll call them back on my landline.

Verizon has a setting by which they email me when someone leaves a voicemail, and the caller ID of the caller so that I know when a message arrives. Its android app lets me listen to the messages and delete them.

And if someone calls us and does not have our cell phone numbers, a quick email from them telling me who they are, lets me decide if they should have it.

We spent the last week letting family and friends who regularly call our landline know about our new effort. They all seemed supportive.

And what if a marketer starts calling my cell phone? That’s even more intrusive.

The only phone number I hand out is not my cell number, but my Google Voice number. Google Voice gives me a phone number that when called, rings my cell phone. Google Voice has a lot of cool features.

For example, I could force callers to say their name first, and then I’m called with the name and can choose to take the call or not. I have that turned off.

But if someone calls me whom I don’t what to have the number, I can go to Voice’s website and say in the future to direct that call to voicemail or to a voicemail telling them why I’m not taking their call, or even to receive the “no longer in service” sound so they think my phone has been disconnected.

Even if you do not have Google Voice, your carrier may let you block numbers from reaching your phone. I know Sprint has that feature.

What about those times you do want to hear the sound of someone’s voice? Of course then, I still love to call. If I’m fearful if it is a good time or not, I’ll text first perhaps.

Besides using a landline or cell, I’m as likely to do a Google Hangout or Skype call so I can see them as well. The promise of a video phone first made at the AT&T Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair has been realized, and it is free, even internationally.

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