Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Candidates have a phone
call hang-up

For the primary election, I initially planned to vote for candidates based on their positions on various issues, but ended up voting for the ones who were the least annoying.

And the most annoying thing happening in the campaigns right now aren't attack ads and scurrilous fliers lying about opponent's voting records (those, at least, are entertaining), but the recorded phone messages from candidates to my home.

Is there anything more insulting and annoying than getting a phone call only to realize it is a taped message, not another human being, on the other end of the line? I mean, even credit card hucksters and refinance boiler-room operators have the decency to call you in person. You might get mad and yell at them, but at least there's a "them" to yell at. The only thing you can do when you get a computer-generated, digital message phone call from a candidate is to slam the phone down. And, in my case, promise not to vote for whichever candidate utilizes this form of technological harassment the most. In the primary election, I actually was favoring one mayoral candidate until I got one too many taped phone calls urging me to vote for the guy.

Why is it insulting? Because the calls are supposed to indicate the candidate cares so much for your vote that he's willing to call you up personally. Or, in the old days, have one of his volunteers call you up personally. But to have a computer call you and play a digitally recorded message in your ear merely says the candidate has enough money to buy a list of phone numbers and the machine capable of dialing those numbers. It actually is a "numbers game." If 1 percent of the 100,000 people called vote for the person, then they consider it a success. There's no effort involved. There is no sincerity involved. There's no concern that you are just sitting down to dinner involved.

"Hi, I'm So-and-so, and I just wanted to ask for your support in the coming election. ..."

No. You wanted to spend 10 seconds recording a message and then use it to annoy thousands of unsuspecting homeowners who are in the middle of doing something really important, like washing the dog, when the phone rings.

We live in a time when technology is used just because it is there. Call me old-fashioned, but when my phone rings, I expect a breathing entity to be on the other side. If it's a heavy-breathing entity, so much the better.

These pre-recorded calls from candidates are nothing more than audio spam. They come out of nowhere, unwanted, with the selfish hope that one or two people will be gullible enough to fall for the pitch. Here's a wake-up call, so to speak, for politicians utilizing this nuisance: People hate spam, whether on their phone or computer. Candidates for office might soon learn that in order to "reach out and touch someone" by telephone, it had better be more than a machine doing the reaching.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com



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