MACHINES WE HAVE KNOWN

A summary of what's new, what's news, and what's just darn funny.

What's the most personal form of expression for your run-of-the-mill Harvard student? No, it's not the day-glow color of your hair.

It's your answering machine's outgoing message, silly!

Diversity in machine messages spans as wide a range as the student population itself. Here are a few distinctive recordings:

The "I Sound Like I'm Here But I'm Really Not" Message: The speaker says things like, "Hello?", "Are you there?" and "Is this an obscene phone call?" as though he or she has answered the phone. Some unfortunate callers fall for the dupe; they respond to the bogus speaker with, "Can you hear me?" or "I'll try again, wait!" Ironically, the speaker and roommates are usually in the room, laughing their respective heads off, when the machine answers.

The "Personal Benediction From God to You" Message: The speaker ends the message as a Republican president would end a national televised address, e.g. "God be with you" or "God bless you."

To those callers who did not recently sneeze, this message can be distinctly unexpected. The fact that the speaker doesn't know who exactly will call impersonalizes this otherwise touching message. The fact that the speaker only says it once--then the machine plays it innumerable times--cheapens the whole misguided spirit of it, anyway.

The "We Are Too Cool to Take Your Call" Message: Jazzy music plays in the background; a nonchalant voice describes the wonderful things the suite's occupants are doing while you try in vain to gain an audio audience with them. This message can be annoying if encountered repeatedly, or maybe you're just not hip enough to understand.

The "Maximum Possible Anonymity" Message: The speaker merely recites the number you have called, slowly. Tone follows. Results in lots of messages that include the sentence, "I hope I have the right room."

The "Sexual Overtones" Message: Speaker uses phrases like "tied up right now" and "very busy" or has a different sex from that of the room's theoretical occupants.

A note of caution: you never know when a professor or possible job offer will call you up. Wouldn't you want them to hear the strains of Schubert and your polite, controlled voice instead of you and your roommates screaming along with Offspring?

Just something to keep in mind.