A Matter of Seconds

I think it’s time for all of us to band together and wage a mighty nationwide protest. We’ve been victimized too long, and our silent acquiescence must stop. The injustice I speak of echoes in our ears several times a day, and like a recurring nightmare, we try to ignore it, but it subversively eats away at us, mocking us, making us feel powerless.

What injustice do I rail against? “At the tone, please record your message. When you have finished recording, you may hang up or press ‘one’ for more options. If you’d like to leave a callback number, press ‘five’.”

In my cellphone network, and nearly all I’ve encountered, this is a mandatory tag to your own voice mail recorded greeting. My service provider explained that I can’t remove it. Gee, I wonder why?

This tag line lasts eleven seconds. Hardly significant, right? Well, let’s say that of the approximately 190 million cellphone users nationwide (cited in a Washington Post article in July, 2005), 100 million of them hear a voice mail message twice daily, a fairly conservative and very unscientific estimate. 100 million x 11 seconds x 2 = 36,666,667 minutes. Granted, not every one of those 11 seconds would kick you into the next minute of your call, but let’s say half of them did. Well, then I should divide the number of minutes in half, but remember both the calling party and the receiving party pays for the call, so we’re back up to the previous number. If these minutes occur after exceeding subscribers’ monthly limits, let’s say to the tune of 45¢/minute, the nation’s cellphone users just spent $16,500,000.

Of course, each of those minutes may not translate to a billable minute, for some cellphone users never go over their monthly minutes, but let’s say ten percent of the minutes become billable. With that very unscientific scenario, the cellphone companies are receiving $1,650,000 daily for forcing us to listen to a useless recording. (I imagine most people just leave a message after the beep completely ignoring all the options offered.) And this is all on the conservative side. I hear voice mail messages far more frequently than twice per day, as I imagine many of us do.

But the insult doesn’t stop there. With my provider, when I call in to retrieve the messages on my cellphone, I hear, “Welcome. You have [insert number] unheard messages. The following message has not been heard. (isn’t that redundant?) First unheard message.” This times out to 10 seconds, which is tagged onto the greeting I must interrupt to get to the message center, followed by a message prompting me to enter my password. All of this totals 15 seconds. If I have saved or skipped messages, the tag points that out as well, adding time. Again, I can only estimate how often cellphone users pick up their messages, but I can promise that a fair amount of money just migrated into the pockets of service providers.

Some may argue that they never go over their monthly minutes, and thus none of this impacts upon them, but how did you arrive at the number of minutes you needed? You undoubtedly selected a plan to comfortably pad your usage. Did you realize how many minutes might have been added to your total simply due to these voice mail tags, not to mention how many minutes of your life have vanished into the stratosphere never to return to you? Do you see how this affects you now?

Yes, there are lots of permutations to alter the actual numbers above, but the point is, cellphone service providers are holding us hostage with these voice mail tags and making money off our inability to alter or remove them. My landline service, which has little incentive to keep me on a toll free call, is provided by the same company as my cellphone service. And guess what? I have several choices for modifying my voice mail greetings.

Are there more worthy things to lobby against? Absolutely, and the cellphone companies bank on that fact. While we’re distracted by gas prices, world politics, the failings of public schools, and countless other issues, this scam marches on, costing us money and time and a small piece of our sanity. Maybe we feel powerless to alter this practice, but if we were to flood our providers with complaints, I imagine change is possible. Get busy dialing.

1 comment:

Emily said...

I just stumbled across your blog. I have thought of this (especially during daytime minutes) Your very impressive calculations make it even more real. You're right, it's not the most important battle, but that doesn't make it right. I enjoyed your blog.