by Robyn Banks
I ditched the landline when I first came to University in 2012. With my mobile phone almost surgically attached to my hand, it didn’t seem to make sense to pay money I didn’t have every month for a phone with no caller ID, and which in order to answer I had to jog across the house on a time limit only to find it wasn’t actually me they wanted to speak to. I’ve lived quite happily without one since then, and I didn’t really think about landlines again until this term, when I spent 2 days a week sitting next to one.
With my boyfriend on placement close to my hometown, I decided to come home for long weekends. I could hang out with him at the weekend and getting up early to drive him to work on weekdays allowed me a full day to concentrate on my dissertation. That is, it would have done, if it wasn’t for that pesky landline.
I’d heard about scam calls, sales calls, nuisance calls and excessive charity calls. After the death of Olive Cooke, a lot of fuss was made about charity calls and begging letters, with Daily Mail Exposes claiming that charities were running dodgy call centres and hounding people for money. I think we all feel like Olive sometimes, that there are just too many good causes and each charity caller seems to judge you on your ability to give, but charity calls were the least of my problems. At least, with a charity call, there’s a person on the other end of the line. A person who means well, even if they’re as irritating as newly converted vegetarians.
No, the charity calls probably made up about ten percent of the nuisance calls I would get in a day. Every twenty minutes the phone would ring, disrupting my concentration, and every twenty minutes I would pick up the phone to find either white noise at the other end, or a recorded message. I tried ignoring the phone, but I also live with a husky- a particularly chatty breed of dog who would howl in imitation of the phone if I didn’t answer it. I tried leaving it off the hook, but then it would run out of battery, or get lost, leaving me searching for a dead phone when my mum got home from work. My grandmother, who seems to forget I have a mobile phone, would subtly suggest I was deliberately ignoring her calls.
I resorted to phoning back all of the recorded message numbers, most of which had an option to press 9 to have your number removed from their system. However, not only did I find myself phoning about 10 definitely-not-free phone numbers a day, but they didn’t remove the number from their system. The next day, the same thing would happen again.
And the last pet peeve, one of the most annoying things of all, was the question “Is your dad in?”
The times when there was actually a person on the other end were a ridiculous relief from arguing with, and swearing at, robotic voices. I’ve heard that call centres can be a tough job, so I always try to be reasonably pleasant to junk callers, but they don’t half make it difficult. My polite explanations that I hadn’t been in a car accident or taken out any PPI and that these calls were starting to seriously harsh my vibe were often met with aggression. One man only agreed not to call me back when I told him I was going to start hearing voices. Another woman told me she would take my number off her system but then called me back the very next day. Any reaction from me other than absolute politeness to what I felt was bordering on harassment, even the gentle suggestion they shouldn’t be phoning that number, could turn a pleasant call centre worker in to an angry and pushy person. And the last pet peeve, one of the most annoying things of all, was the question “Is your dad in?” when I said I didn’t want to speak to them. Or even straight off the bat. My dad doesn’t live here mate. Never has. In fact, no men ever have. Just a bit sexist.
So that was how I would spend my weekdays – talking mostly to myself and to robots
The last call I received yesterday was from a man who told me that he was from Microsoft and that hackers were accessing my computer and I needed to follow his instructions in order to stop them, or he would have to shut my computer down in the next ten minutes. At last, I thought, a scam call I can actually have fun with! I jokily pretended to go along with his instructions, but at the first joke challenge- “Oh, I don’t have that option on a Linux computer?”- He suddenly became abusive and shouted at me for knowing nothing about computers, before telling me he would definitely have to shut my computer down now and hanging up. No fun, in the end.
So that was how I would spend my weekdays – talking mostly to myself and to robots, and the few people I did speak to in the day were generally aggressive and sometimes abusive. By the end of the day I wanted to rip the landline wire out of the wall.
On my mobile, I can block any contacts I like, put my phone on silent when I’m working and I know that anyone phoning actually wants to talk to me and not the non-existent ‘man-of-the-house’
I searched online to see if there was any legal recourse for this sort of harassment, but the only thing it seems that you can do is to report each number individually to Ofcom- a pretty time consuming prospect. Then, I imagined what it would be like to be an older person. We hear a lot about the elderly having little social contact in a day- what would it be like if I had to struggle to get up every time that phone rang, if my mum didn’t come home at the end of every day, if the only people I spoke to all week were robots or aggressive scammers and salespeople? If I couldn’t go online to find out how to stop the calls?
The landline dug its own grave when we allowed it to be abused in such a manner. On my mobile, I can block any contacts I like, put my phone on silent when I’m working and I know that anyone phoning actually wants to talk to me and not the non-existent ‘man-of-the-house’. But now I know the full extent of landline nuisance calls, I urge you all to keep an eye on your elderly relatives. Get them a mobile phone, and make sure they’re not being harassed.