Alfred Nobel and his heirs and assigns would surely disagree, but it seems to me that if ever anyone deserved a prize for peace, it's the person(s) who invented the system we now know as Caller ID.

To a great extent, it's the happy ending of a fairy tale, woven into the fabric of Real Life. Imagine being able to know who calls before you answer! In days of old, this arcane art required some serious divination, and soothsayers didn't come cheap. And today, it's not too likely you can get too much sooth said for seventy-eight bucks a year.

For someone like me, for whom the telephone is a temporary nuisance until the computer takes over the line, Caller ID is a decided boon, made more so by the fact that most of the phones in this household are ancient and don't ring properly. (The one closest to my computer is a desktop rotary phone in some godawful Fifties pink, with somebody's phone number trapped under the dial — two letters, five digits. It doesn't ring at all, which is why it has earned its position by my side.) Voice mail will pick up, but if you don't leave a message — and most people don't, given the generally nasty and uncooperative nature of the announcements I leave on the autoresponder — I have no way of knowing it was you.

Privacy advocates point out that Caller ID can have a chilling effect on anonymous informants and whistle-blowers, and they're probably right, but if any such are trying to call me, they're well hidden among the siding salesmen and representatives of long-distance carriers. (I live in a leased two-bedroom flat, and AT&T carries my meager $70 per year worth of toll calls, so leave me alone, okay?) This particular phone user likes the service just fine, and if anyone tried to take it away from me, I'd be tempted to use Alfred Nobel's major invention to dissuade the culprit — assuming Wile E. Coyote hadn't bought up the entire supply from Acme.

The Vent

#53
17 May 1997

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