As a man who has always had a lot of hang-ups about the telephone, especially since the only people who want to talk with me are scammers and telemarketers, I wouldn’t be sorry to know that Alexander Graham Bell is spending eternity being bombarded with robocalls.
It used to be that all you needed to know about the telephone was that you said “hello” when you picked it up and “goodbye” when you put it down. Now you have to take a class to learn how to use the latest system.
That’s why I recently found myself, along with about two dozen colleagues, in the auditorium at work to get a crash course in the “softphones” we would soon be using.
The phones are soft not because they are made of Silly Putty, which would at least make them fun, if a bit messy since they’d stick to our ears, but because they don’t, physically, exist.
According to two very nice IT guys named Brenden and Vinny, who conducted the class, the phones will be embedded in our computers.
“You won’t have phones on your desks anymore,” Brenden told the group.
“If you want to make or receive a call,” Vinny added, “you’ll have to do it on-screen.”
I raised my hand.
“If I’m doing something on the computer and a call comes in, I have to stop, right?” I asked.
“Yes,” Brenden said.
“So if I’m on the phone all day,” I wondered, “does that mean I don’t have to do any work?”
“I guess so,” Vinny replied.
“That’s all I wanted to know,” I said to the appreciative chuckles of my co-workers.
One of them, Christine, who works in advertising, sat next to me.
“Let’s exchange phone numbers,” I said.
“If I talked with you all day, I wouldn’t make any sales and I’d lose my job,” Christine noted.
“If I lost my job,” I countered, “nobody would notice.”
“What do you do?” she asked.
“As little as possible,” I told her.
Someone else asked a question that, unlike mine, was actually pertinent: “If I’m having computer problems and need technical support, how am I supposed to call you?”
Brenden and Vinny looked at each other.
“We haven’t quite figured that out,” said Vinny.
“Call us on your cellphone,” Brenden suggested.
Christine leaned over to me and said, “So we need two phones to replace the one we’re losing.”
“Modern technology marches on!” I responded.
The technology is named Cisco Jabber. According to an online dictionary, which I couldn’t use if I were on the phone, jabber means to “talk rapidly and excitedly but with little sense.”
“I do that even when I’m not on the phone,” I told Christine, who smiled politely but did not disagree.
Brenden and Vinny used a large screen to show us the new system, which was pretty impressive. A week after they finished the employee classes, the system went live, though we still, for now, have our old phones, too.
That gave me a chance to call myself. I put on my headset, logged on to Jabber on my computer, punched in the number of my desk phone and clicked. My desk phone rang. I picked it up.
“Hello?” I said in a loud, clear voice. “Oh, it’s me. How are you? Slacking off again, I see. Don’t you have any work to do or are you going to stay on the phone all day?”
My colleagues stopped what they were doing, which included the work I wasn’t doing, and listened.
“Well,” I continued, “I have to go. It’s time for a coffee break. Bye!”
Then I called Christine, but she didn’t answer. I guess she was on her new softphone, making a sale. It beats talking with me all day.