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The Effect Of Answering Machines On Society

1088 words - 4 pages

After the third ring the machine picks up, "You know what to do", the voice says which is then followed by the usual beep. Of course you know what to do. We all know the routine. We can all recall the countless voices that we have heard playing variations of the essentially same message over and over again. It is almost maddening, if not insulting, that people feel they need to remind us of how to perform what has become a daily ritual in American society. And yet they persist.They persist because it is not considered condescending to program your answering machine to rattle off instructions to callers asking them to leave a message. Rather it is expected, it is a norm in our society and to not do so would most likely leave callers confused, bewildered, and driven to hang up if they were met with only a blaring beep in their ears. Although the answering machine offers people a chance to leave all different kinds of messages in a variety of ways, the whole practice has been mainstreamed to such an extent that we can usually predict the contents of the message after the we hear the first few words. This is because the social norms dictating what is said on the answering machine are just as regulatory as the ones that assure that, as Americans, we have one in the first place.The fact that you don't know who is going to hear the message is the factor that is most responsible for determining what you do and don't say on an outgoing message. In one day your grandmother, employer, lover, and a "wrong number" could call. While your lover might delight in you leaving a steamy message on your machine the other three callers would most likely not care to hear about the intimacies of your relationship. This is where the rule of communicative competence comes into play. Communicative competence refers to, "the knowledge of what is and what is not appropriate to say in any specific cultural context,"(Salzman 193). There is no doubt that you know what to talk to your grandmother, employer, and lover about, the uncertainty lies in which one is going to call you that day to leave a message on your machine. Perhaps it is at the expense of those who found themselves communicatively incompetent when answering machines first became popular that Life's Little Handbook published as one of its top 100 rules to "Resist the urge to leave a clever message on your answering machine". From this arose the collective understanding of what is appropriate to communicate to others through your answering machine; a message thirty seconds or less in length with a greeting, request, and closure.For some the greeting portion of the message mirrors the way one would answer the phone with a simple "Hi" or "Hello". However many omit this salutation and simply inform you who you have reached. There are many different ways to do this: · "You have reached the Smith residence"¦" · "You have reached 341-9359"¦" · "This is Kate"¦"...

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