It is a magnificently easy, handy and effective way to save time, face, relationships and headache. I'm betting that the average Joe uses it more than a dozen times a day. But like progressive lenses, ouchless Band-Aids and tired mothers, it's been around long enough to take for granted.
I'm talking about caller ID.
This social early warning system gives us time to carefully phrase responses instead of doing it on the fly. When we eventually do speak with the caller, we are poised, calm and prepared, having already choreographed the conversation in our heads.
Pre-caller ID: "Oh, uh, well, I might have told Alex you had a date with Taylor, but, huh, what was the question?"
Post-caller ID: "Don't you believe in honesty?"
Caller ID is the reason we won't pick up the phone or, if someone else might, we yell, "Don't get it!" My oldest son, when hearing me shout this, often pretends to answer a phone elsewhere in the house. "Hello?" he says loud enough for me to hear. I angrily race toward his voice and am breathless by the time I find him grinning in front of the television, amused that I am so gullible ... and out of shape.
Caller I-don't-wanna-answer usually happens when I am in a foul mood. No good will come of me snapping at a colleague, friend or church volunteer coordinator -- there is a cold, dark place in the afterlife for people who lose tempers at volunteer coordinators. At least that's what a room mother once told me.
I depend on and treasure caller ID to a degree that signals complex personal social issues. I'm counting on a face-to-face ID, where I am warned of an impending encounter with a nosy neighbor or school teacher just outside the ABC store.
There are times, however, when it is inconvenient: when someone else uses it against me. I'm not talking about when caller ID is used as an evasive tactic against me. Heck, there are times I wish that I was "Out of Area" from myself.
My problem with the system is when it catches me. Like last winter when I dialed a wrong number at 6 a.m. My intent was to reach my son's high school absentee line; my reality was reaching a stranger's very present voice. I immediately hung up.
Here's the call I (stupidly) answered within seconds:
Caller: "Who is this?!"
Caller: "According to my caller ID, you just called me. You woke me up!"
Me, lying through my morning-breath-coated teeth: "Sorry, but I'm in a rush to call my doctor and I dialed you by mistake. I have to hang up ... [what follows is something I will pay for someday] ... this is an emergency."
My husband wanted to know why I didn't simply apologize. Isn't it obvious? I didn't want this complete stranger to think I was an idiot. Better to have a good, albeit phony, reason than none at all. Note: That particular motto won't be shared with my teenagers.
It's about time we let caller ID know how grateful we are. I hope it answers our call.
[September 3, 2008]
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