Originally Posted: Thu, 30 December 2010
Testing... testing... am I plateauing? Calcifying? Past my own expiration date?
What prompted the thought: the damn answering machine had stopped working last week. Answering machine? Yes, my top-of-the-line Record-A-Call 690. Made ca. 1986.
I knew something was up when I tried Google and eBay to find spare units of my 690. Not a single hit (that will change with this piece!) No clue who hordes these, and where to find one.
In the past, whenever one of three predictable defects would strand my 690, I would cannibalize one of the spare units I had found at Goodwill stores years ago; but finally, cannibalization had left nothing but bones.
I sensed something was up, whenever I would drop a hint in conversation that I was still using an answering machine, now that texting and cloud-based voice mail is the mode-du jour for reaching someone eventually who cannot or does not want to be reached right away.
I got a first hint of myself as generic grandpa when I received subtlety amused but polite responses to my praise of the 690. It gradually dawned on me that I must have stopped moving automatically to the latest communication technology of the time, as I did with previous introductions of telecom gadgetry. Unnoticed, mostly by myself, I had jumped off at the platform of the last innovation I could fully comprehend, take apart to its building blocks, able to fix and therefore fully embrace. And I was still standing there, watching every new gadget train leave the station, stubborn and bewildered.
Had I truly been handcuffing myself to that platform? Was I a lost cause? Or maybe just an enlightened Luddite extraordinaire? Was listing my arguments for holding on to my answering machine just a clever but ultimately unconvincing attempt at sugar coating my stuck stage in life?
Pretending my self doubt does not matter, here is my pitch for the Record-A-Call 690:
* total control of message creation and retrieval: when, and how creative I make my messages; when, how often, and to what exact section of a recorded message I wish to listen to. (Have you ever tried to get to the exact spot in a digital voice mail message where a digitally truncated, garbled telephone number was left by someone on a bad cell call? Impossible!)
* good audio quality-both on the outgoing and incoming messages- that aids intelligibility and promotes intimacy (read: authority and emotional impact) due to decent resolution of the dual-cassette format. Hell, I once even used a Neumann M50 for my message, making it (slightly) better
* any message length I want, incoming and outgoing (I use 1 hr. cassettes on incoming, for extended, unhurried messaging, avoiding annoying caller cutoffs)
* auto-fax-reception on the same telephone line, which voice mail cannot accommodate (OK, faxing is not exactly cutting edge stuff either, and I dumped my fax machine last year)
no monthly costs; independence from the rapacious reach of telecom conglomerates which will slowly suck you dry, a few add-ons and dollars at a time
* preservation of priceless messages which can be easily transferred to stable, long-term (ha!) digital (ha!) storage: your kid’s first rambling call, his voice before it changed, and other treasured aural memories from your late father, or “Happy Birthday” sung by dear friends long ago at places now far away
I almost gave up last night: carcasses of armatures and motor assemblies, printed circuit boards and plastic casings of three 690s were strewn across the floor, with only one more new combination of assembling these old parts left to try.
Was this mess on the carpet not evidence enough why busy doctors, car salesmen, housewives and anyone else with a hectic life had lost any appetite for reconsidering hardware-based, mechanically intricate and eventually deteriorating message devices like the 690? Wasn’t this yet another case where offering a new, if only 75% technically adequate, solution to a problem seemed to fully satisfy 98% of all customers, therefore making the less convenient solution obsolete?
I screwed the last few case screws into the plastic, and bingo! the 690 purred again. I found a batch of fresh (!) 60 minute chrome cassettes in the basement, recorded a new outgoing message featuring my newly energized and relieved voice, and now I have my personal, antiquated solution to the problem back.
How long I can continue to stand on that platform and watch the trains of technological progress pass me by, is a subject for another story.