When Students Reach Out and Touch Someone or Something
ANSWERING MACHINES: TODAY'S SECRETARIES
My favorite philosopher says nothing is better than reaching the person you want to talk to. But reaching an answering machine is better than nothing. Therefore, reaching an answering machine is better than reaching the person you want to talk to.
In Quincy E-43, that philosophic snippet greets callers almost as often as one of the three residents does. This room is not alone. More and more students are creating a new art out of answering machines--the clever, pithy answering message.
Bryna R. Kra '88, who is one of the masterminds behind the above message, says that many people who call her room and hear the statement leave messages saying, "I disagree with that."
In other rooms, with equally quirky recordings, people phone only to hear the answer machine. Sometimes when Nick P. Davis '87 answers his phone, the caller says, "We just wanted to hear the message" and waits until Davis obligingly plays it.
Some callers don't "want to speak to us, but just want to hear the trivia question," says Augustin A. Paculdar '87-'88, whose rooming group tapes a different trivia question weekly. The answer is included on the next week's recording.
"Students totally go for it," Paculdar says. If they miss the answer, friends will ask about it later, he adds. The Quincy residents ask questions like "what country did not permit women's suffrage until the late 70's?"
"A lot of people take such pride in answering machines," says Davis, who made a tape of over 70 recordings he has created since high school when he first acquired an answering machine. Davis says he changes the outgoing recording "ideally two or three times a week," but sometimes leaves it on for up to a month. "It's a hobby that comes and goes," he says.
And even though answering machines have a functional purpose, as Michael L. Goldenberg '88 says, "you might as well be amusing."
And for some answering machines are a form of "entertainment," says Zoltan P. Arany '89. "[My roommates and I] have a great time putting messages on it."
A good message "should just be funny," Davis says. It should be a little different, something people haven't heard before, and should "entertain your callers," he adds. "You should really have to change the message a lot."
To amuse callers, many owners of answering machines make an effort to make the message as entertaining as possible. Many rooming groups record spoofs of popular shows or personalities. One Leverett group's message parodied Robin Leach, host of TV's Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Goldenberg says. One Quincy suite taped a mock-up of the game show $25,000 Pyramid.
Callers to Arany's Currier room will hear "Surprise!" and a recording of a crowd of people singing "Happy Birthday," after which a voice tells callers to hang up because they are waiting for a phone call.
One of the best messages they've had so far took a half-hour to create, Arany says. It consisted of a woman telling callers, "The boys are all tied up right now, but if you care to leave a message, I'll have them call you back." After she laughs, she adds "as soon as they're up to it." Cracking whips and moaning in the background complete the scenario.
"We had a good time with that one," Arany says.
Some callers hear snatches of music on machines, from Madonna to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and even Paul Winter's whale music, a recording of a whale singing. One rooming group entertains callers with their own version of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring; residents "chant-a-long" the message to the music, says Harry Chomsky '88.
But not everyone appreciates the tunes. Listening to a recording of a Beatles song, one caller hung up and said, "I prefer Bach," says Ned M. Seaton '90.
But the purpose of an answering machine--no matter how amusing--is still to take messages. Good messages tend to elicit responses from callers, even those who have dialed the wrong number, say students. "It's a good feeling" when one of the messages says "nice message but wrong number," Yakir Siegal's '89 says.
"People despise answering machines most of the time," says Randall Fecher '89, but a funny message will at least catch callers' attention. "I would hang up on answering machines unless it's a funny message," he adds. "If it's really funny I'll stay on."
If you have a really good message, you'll get `I just called to hear your message,' "Fecher says.
Funny recordings challenge people to leave a funny message, Siegal says. "You have to live up to that when you leave a message."
And for some people, the difference between the person called and the answering machine doesn't seem to matter. Once, a friend called from California and left a 20-minute message, Kra says. "He rambled about the weather, classes, what he was wearing, what he was eating, what he was doing," she says, adding that not until the very end of the message did he tell her when he was coming to visit, the real reason he called.
Other messages can be downright annoying. One popular ploy to puzzle callers is recording a message saying "hello, hello? I can't hear you?" as though the speaker is actually on the other side of the phone.
One Currier resident recorded a variation on that theme. His message started off innocently enough asking callers to leave a message at the beep. But Siegal used the pushbutton tone on his hallmate's phone to record a fake beep.
As callers began to speak, the recording interrupted with "what did you say your name was?" and another beep. Then the message requested the caller to "speak up and maybe a little louder," and again added a fake beep. It ended with "If you're not going to speak up you can just go"--another fake beep--"yourself," Siegal says.
But the message didn't last long, Siegal says. "People said it was too obnoxious. Like my mom."