Voicemail has been a thing since the ’90s and old-fashioned answering machines have been around since the late ’70s if not earlier, but believe it or not some people (including a famous actor I call from time to time) still use “live” answering services. That’s right — in the year 2015 there are people who still pick up and say “may I take a message?” for someone else. These are people, of course, with personalities and attitudes and occasional faintly implied judgments about this and that aspect of your life. Which is why people prefer digital voicemail — who needs all that?
Anyway, I was reminded last night by Experimenter of an answering service war I got into with cartoonist-guitarist Chance Browne in the mid ’70s.
He started it, I recall, by calling my service and leaving a message about something vaguely unsavory, possibly having to do with my not paying a bill or my having been recently arrested or something. I got him back by telling his answering service lady that I was calling on behalf of the American Racial Purity Organization and that Mr. Browne’s annual contribution was overdue. He responded by pretending to be from a drug clinic, and regretfully informing my answering service that authorities were looking to speak to me regarding a recent theft of liquid morphine and could I get in touch with them? I returned fire with a message from the Connecticut Man-Boy Love Society and that new teenage boys under the age of 15 would be attending the next get-together and did my friend want to rsvp?
Experimenter tells you about Stanley Milgram‘s “lost letter” experiment. Wiki boilerplate: “It measured how helpful people are to strangers who are not present, and their attitudes toward various groups. Several sealed and stamped letters were planted in public places, addressed to various entities, such as individuals, favorable organizations like medical research institutes, and stigmatized organizations such as ‘Friends of the Nazi Party’. Milgram found most of the letters addressed to individuals and favorable organizations were mailed, while most of those addressed to stigmatized organizations were not.”