America's Big Hang-Up

telemarketing, phone, over no slash
After all the recent dissension in this country, President Bush finally found an issue that has apparently united the country. A few weeks ago in the Rose Garden, he revealed a plan that guarantees all of us our inalienable right to avoid unwanted phone calls.

Now you can submit your phone number to the national "do-not-call" registry. If telemarketers call any number on that list, they will be fined.

In the first two weeks, Americans submitted 23 million phone numbers to the "do-not-call" registry. So by now, more than one-fifth of all American households have joined together to say, "I hate it when you call."

I decided to put my phone number on the big list, too. After making this decision, I learned that if you register by phone, you don't really talk to a person, but you enter your number in a computer-operated system. That seemed a little hypocritical to me. How could I make a call to a computer if I hate getting calls from computers?

The other way to register is online. That sounded a little risky. Why would I want to put my name and phone number in cyberspace? At the very least, wouldn't putting my personal information out there result in my getting more and more spam? Maybe the dinnertime pleas to change my long distance carrier would stop, but did I really want more email trying to sell me printer toner, barnyard porn, and "natural Viagra?"

I also started thinking about the people at the other end of the phone — the phone solicitors, the telemarketers. This is how they earn a living. I'm capable of saying, "Thank you, but I'm not interested," and hanging up. Do I really need to be part of a movement that might put all these people out of work?

And won't thousands of unemployed telemarketers, wandering the streets, mumbling their sales pitches, have a disastrous effect on our country? Not only will we have the trickle-down effect of more unemployment, but that could be followed by the traditional consequences of such economic disaster — social unrest, political instability, and unnecessary folksongs.

Finally, I realized that not all unwanted calls come from professional telemarketers. Some are from the people we know best. Many are from members of our own family. If the idea of the registry is to keep us safe from telephonic intrusions, then it should be much more inclusive.

Among others, it should block calls from:

  • Those who call and say, "I hope I didn't wake you. What time is it there?"
  • People who say, "I know you're busy, but I'm not doing anything, so I thought we could talk."
  • Anyone who calls while there's a big game on TV.
  • Anyone doing work on your house who says, "The truck broke down. Would it be okay if we came tomorrow?"
  • Doctors who leave messages on your answering machine like, "I got those test results back that we were worried about. I'm leaving the office now, but I'll talk to you Monday."
There are many others, and I'm sure you have your own list of calls that you hate to get. And I'll bet they're not all from professional telemarketers. So, I'm not going to sign up now. But, crafty telemarketers beware: I may change my mind. That could happen in a few months if somebody calls me and says, "Because you're so busy, for just a few dollars, we will take care of all the paperwork and sign you up on the 'do-not-call" list' so you won't be disturbed by unwanted calls." And I'll bet that call will come in the middle of a big game.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver