Saturday, May 11, 2013

Still Life With Robin: Play "Guess the Age" by the Phone Message

by Peggy Robin

Yesterday I had three voicemail messages to return from three different callers, who each wanted me to respond with requested information via a different method. Even if I had never previously had contact with any of the three, I would have been able to tell the approximate age of the caller just from her preference in my form of response. Of course, there were also clues in the pitch and quality of the voice, but I think from the content alone it would be easy for anyone to score 3 out of 3 on this guessing game, without any audio hints.

First caller: "You don't need to call me back, just text the information to 571-709-XXXX."

Second caller: "You don't need to call me back, just send me an email with the information. I'm at Firstname underscore Lastname at"

Third caller: ""Please call me back. My number is 363-XXXX."

You know, of course, that the first caller is young, most likely under 30, and possibly under 25.  You would guess (and you would be correct) that this person does not even have a land line. Although she lives in DC, she does not have and may never have a 202 number. She's had the same cell phone number all her young life. And she will probably have that number wherever she lives for the rest of her life. Texting is the normal way for her to receive any brief bit of information. It may also be her preferred way of chatting with her friends. When it comes to cell phone use, she texts far more often than the talks.

The second caller's age is harder to pin down: she's neither old nor young but somewhere in the middle, or more precisely, late-middle of the age spectrum. She's had that AOL account since the early 1990s, when AOL mailed her (along with everyone else in the US who had a permanent or semi-permanent address) that first free disk. It took her a while to get used this means of communication, but by the late 2000s she had become a great and frequent emailer, feeling comfortable and secure with her long and permanent record of saved emails of all her correspondence. While others around her have long ago ditched AOL for trendier domains like Gmail or faster networks like Verizon, she's remained loyal or at least stuck with it out recognition that at her age, it's a hassle to switch.

The third caller is old, most likely over 80. She's old enough to have lived the great part of her life in The Age of 7 Digit Dialing. Though The Age of 10 Digit Dialing crept in on her sometime in the late 1980s, when parts of New York City that used to be 212 were assigned the area code 914 and it first became necessary for some New Yorkers to use 10 digits to dial other New Yorkers, this caller did not feel the need to adjust her own perception of what constitutes a phone number. Then came the 1990s and suddenly parts of suburban Maryland went from 301 to 240. That hit closer to home, but it still did not affect this caller's own, long-practiced and melodious recital of her 7-digit home number. If you should happen to inquire why she does not preface the number with the area code, she will answer this way: "I had to change the way I said the number when they went to all-number calling back in the 1960s. It used to be EMerson 3-XXXX. I loved that number -- it had poetry. I don't need to make any other changes. I have lived in Washington, DC all my life and everyone knows the area code is 202."

I got back to all three, each one as she preferred -- even though it's somewhat alien to me to reply by text as I did to the first caller, and I did have to think twice about the area code before returning the third person's call. I suppose that tells you where I fit into into my own schema.


Still Life With Robin is published on Saturdays on the Cleveland Park Listserv,, and on All Life Is Local.

No comments:

Post a Comment