In days of yore, Bell Labs was the place to work.  The telephone company threw a lot of money into research and development.  At some point, the company analyzed if the people who had gotten many patents for new inventions had something in common.  The only thing they could find that distinguished these people from their less patenting peers was that they all frequently had lunch with the same colleague who, evidently, asked very good questions.

I hope they promoted this person.  People who ask good questions make much better leaders than people who think they know everything.  Nor that the person necessarily wanted to be a leader by title.

Among the inventions that lingered in the Bell Labs basement for years was the answering machine.  Voice mail.  Eventually, it emerged, prompted by somebody else filing for a similar patent and the world learned that it was darn convenient that one could leave a message even if nobody was home.  Sometimes the message was “Call me”.  Seems they succeeded at inventing telephone tag at the same time.

Then came the mobile phone and, as some people noted, people really don’t want to talk to your house, they want to talk to you – a walking, breathing, living person.  The mobile also has voice mail but now almost everybody sends a text instead.  Actually, most people send a text instead of calling.  It seems people really don’t want to talk to a walking, breathing, living person.  It has become a mobile telefax with a phone app.  Hi Siri, do you know what a telefax is?

You can deliver your message when you want to deliver your message and disregard it if it will be convenient for the receiver to receive it now or later.  Somehow, it is called progress that we can disregard the convenience of other people.  So, honestly, why do you get so anxious when the person doesn’t text you back immediately?

Generally, the messages left in my voice mail are robocalls.  They are also illegal.

Some dinosaurs – me – still have a landline.  With voice mail.  And that is highly convenient – for me – because when shops and other places where they ask for my phone number sell the data (or they get stolen in a hack or somebody downloaded the “do not call list”,) the telemarketers and the sordid con artists generally call my landline and not the phone in my pocket.  So, while it is still a nuisance that they call my “do not call” listed number when the display shows “Unavailable” it means that I make myself unavailable.  Sorry folks, if you have something to say, leave a voice mail.  And I may call you back.  Generally, for every ten calls, there is perhaps one message.  Generally, the messages left in my voice mail are robocalls.  They are also illegal.  I apologize to legit callers who may not get a timely call back.  It is easier to get my attention if you send me a text.

I have talked to many people who say that they block these spam calls, but then the spammers call from a different phone.  No, they don’t.  They call from exactly the same phone, but they send a string of numbers pretending to be somebody else.  The poor people whom you perhaps called back had no idea that their number won in the lottery of people whose number is being abused for this purpose.

I got a call from “myself”, once.  That is a number a little hard for me to block.

A lot of good things can be said for having the ability to change numbers.  For example, people can work from home and send their company’s number and info so if you call back, you will be directed through the company’s system rather than directly into somebody’s living room.  You may eventually end up talking to somebody working in their living room, but that is a different issue.  You may hate being directed through some automated phone tree where the idea that this company is offering you some service disappears like morning dew, but that is also a different issue.

Changing appearance used to be something highly technical that required the phone company and the company you worked for to do something advanced.  Then came VOIP, Voice Over the Internet Protocol: digital telephony where your voice is transmitted as 1s and 0s through a computer.  And now it seems any person with an interest in disguising their true identity can recode their number.  And disguise they must, because most numbers they call are listed on the “do not call list” and if you knew who these people were, you could take them to court.

They only provide logistics for the crooks, but so do drivers of bank robbers and they get many years of public housing and free meals if they get caught.

I am wondering how one could disrupt this eco-system of spam calls.  Perhaps a class-action lawsuit suing AT&T and the other telephone companies for “aiding and abetting” scams?  They only provide logistics for the crooks, but so do drivers of bank robbers and they get many years of public housing and free meals if they get caught.  Perhaps, if there was a fee for the service of changing numbers, only legit companies would make the effort?  Work with me here, if you are also tired of calls from people who pretend to be Microsoft or the local sheriff’s department.  The carriers can figure this out in other countries so why is it that the poor American population is not protected against tele-harassment.

The irony is that the company that brought me to the USA helped spread the use of VOIP.  If not for VOIP, I wouldn’t even live here.  And where I come from, telemarketing has generally always been illegal so it is not “a thing”.

The chickens do come home to roost.


Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp is an organizational psychologist who counsels international transfers, immigrants, and foreign students in overcoming culture shock. Originating from Denmark, where she worked in organizational development primarily in the finance industry, Charlotte has lived in California since 1998. Her own experiences relocating lead down a path of research into value systems and communication patterns. She shares this knowledge and experience through speaking and writing and on her website Many of these “learning experiences” along with a context to put them in can be found in her book Building Bridges Across Cultural Differences, Why Don’t I Follow Your Norms?. On the side, she leads a multinational and multigenerational communication training group.

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  1. Ha! Charlotte, I had assumed you were already with BizCat, so the introduction caught me by surprise! So here’s my official, “Welcome to BizCat” (even though, in my mind, you were already part of the family!)!

    I so appreciate your sense of humor. This, and the build-up to it, made me laugh out loud: “Actually, most people send a text instead of calling. It seems people really don’t want to talk to a walking, breathing, living person. It has become a mobile telefax with a phone app. Hi Siri, do you know what a telefax is?”

    I’m delighted that we’ll get to read more Charlotte Wittenkamp!

    • Thank you so much, Kimberly, I am glad you feel I belong here and honored that you toot my horn on LI.

      I went to a goodbye party for an exchange student some years back. All his classmates had been invited to a tent in the back yard as had I – a neighbor – because the kid was from my home country and I had helped facilitate his placement. A dozen quiet high school students sat around the table messaging each other or friends not present – or watched Youtube, what do I know, (don’t answer that.)
      They will need much more than a friendship bench to learn to read face clues and tone of voice.

  2. Hi Charlotte,
    Very welcome to Bizcatalyst 360, with it’s amazing community of inspiring people.
    Thank you for this insightful share. I really liked it and also made me laugh. I just forgot the whole telefax!

    I think most people can resonate with it. For sure I did.
    I just forgot the whole telefax! The telefax really made me laugh, because it is not that long ago that my general practice still where working with it. With smartphones it’s like, you are not supposed to have a life of your own, just to be reachable 24/7, especially when you add social media apps to it. “They” just trace you, don’t know how.

    Also the tele-harassment, it’s a serious problem. Tele-harassment and on the same time when going trough memory-lane it also made me laugh thinking of attending these calls. I just came to a point where I couldn’t be serious anymore.

    Thank you!