Cartoon by Isabella Bannerman
“Somebody get the phone!”
This was a common parental refrain around our house growing up. A phone call was important. It could be a family member stranded in a Buffalo snowstorm. It could be the school nurse calling to say there’s another lice outbreak. For God’s sake, it could be “Dialing for Dollars!”
Phones were important, meant to be answered, and right away. In the dark days before there were answering machines, you were trained to respond to Bell’s ring, like Pavlov’s dog.
Nowadays, of course, phones are meant to be ignored, each caller guilty until caller-ID proves them innocent. According to a recent article in the New York Times, robocallers made over 3.4 billion calls in April alone. And every one of them is trying to swipe your money. That’s how thieves work nowadays, they let their fingers do the stealing.
And they use the latest tech to help them.
For example, “neighborhood spoofing” makes it seem like the call is coming from a local number—hey, it’s a neighbor! It fooled my wife and I, for a while. But it was just the same recording of a woman who was excited to offer us 0% interest on our credit card balance, if we only pressed “1.”
A company identified as “Apple” rang us last week. That was a nice twist, not just a fake number, but a fake name. Still, maybe I was wrong. Thirty years late, it could have been the real company, returning my customer service call to explain how to get that stuck floppy disk out of my Mac Classic. It had been on Tim Cook’s To-Do List for a long time.
My parents don’t get any of this.
They blithely answer, even if they don’t recognize the caller. They are from the generation where that’s what you do. It’s rude not to answer. The other day my Mom thought my son called her.
“Is this George?”
“Hi, Grandma,” he said. Mom talked to him for a while, until another call came in and she had to go. Later she realized he didn’t sound much like George. And that none of the grandkids call her “Grandma.” When the scammer called back the next day, she hung up.
Yesterday my Dad answered a call from “his cousin Pete.” Pete told Dad that he was in prison, and asked Dad to call Pete’s lawyer. The “lawyer” wanted $7,000 for Pete’s bail. At that point, Dad wised up, hung up, and called the real Pete to check the story. Pete, of course, was not in the big house, but his own house.
Threats to my parents’ welfare are coming inside their home every day, with every ringy-dingy. So my brothers and I have been making some threatening calls ourselves. Threatening to take my parents’ phones away unless they stop answering when they don’t know who’s calling.
Just like they threatened to do to us when we hadn’t finished our homework. Done the dishes. Or cleaned our rooms.
A phone, we tell them, is a privilege, not a right.
It’s working out as well as getting our chores done did.