19 September 2011

Leave A Message

I grew up in an era where we had machines that answered the phone for us.

In retrospect it was a despicable thing to do but at the time we didn't know any better. It simply was.

Answering machines were a given in any household because the alternative was letting the phone ring forever. As I understand, that's why so many missing persons cases in pre-answering machine times ended when searchers found a seated skeleton holding a phone up to its ear.

"Wrong number," the police would conclude.

But just as phone-related deaths plummeted with the advent of the answering machine, so too did answering machine purchases plummet with the advent of voicemail. Probably, but almost definitely.

Pressing fast forward to today (and then hitting rewind for a second because we overshot it) I realize that I don't remember how answering machines work. I mean, if I had one, plus the instructions from the box (or maybe just the labeled jacks on the back of the machine) I could probably figure out how to make it work.

What I'm saying is, I don't understand the underlying technology. How did it know when to pick up? How did it count the rings? It must have had a microphone on it somewhere, right?

I don't even know anymore.

Like many things from that time, that tiny cassette tapes were involved. And there was probably an in and an out jack for the phone lines.

Beyond that though... I really can't say. And, I would rather leave some mystery in something that I could easily resolve with a cursory search of the internet instead of cynically tossing it in the bin labeled "shit I know about".

Probably I should know how an answering machine works, though. Just as a matter of principle.

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