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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 07.29.11
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

To call screen or not to screen

Have you ever done something that your 24-year-old self would have been appalled at? Something you're certain would have made that 24-year-old stop hanging that Che poster, put down that lemongrass smoothie and exhale a long judgemental sigh?

It might be purchasing an SUV or singing along to a Michael Bublé song or voting Conservative. Whatever it is, you find yourself saying, "Good Lord, who are you? "

I had one of those moments recently and, in admitting that, I have to make a confession; friends, family, strangers: you've been screened.

Until a few weeks ago, we've never had caller ID in our home. In an age of ubiquitous cell phones and the virtual end of privacy, such a decision might seem positively quaint. But for more than twenty years, Deb and I have stuck by our principal that caller ID is institutionalized rudeness.

Caller ID is one of those innovations that have contributed very little to the world. Caller ID could be banned tomorrow and there would be no panic in the streets, no overwrought editorials in the papers, no outbreak of Michael Bublé sing-alongs.

I'd go so far as to say that caller ID's contributions to mankind have been entirely unbeneficial.

There are countless inventions whose negative impact outweighs the positive. Take plastic wrap, for example -- wastefulness for the sake of convenience. On the other hand, it probably has contributed to food safety over the years, not to mention the joke about the guy who goes to the psychiatrist wearing only Saran Wrap, causing the psychiatrist to say, "I can clearly see you're nuts. "

But caller ID, I'd argue, has few if any redeeming values. Unless you're being harassed or avoiding HBC bill collectors, you don't use caller ID to see who you're about to talk to. You use caller ID to see whether you want to talk to that person at all.

It's the tele-snub.

The marvel of the telephone has traditionally been that you never know who's at the other end, the surprise of the unexpected call, the long-lost friend, the generous offer of a free estimate on lawn care.

That doesn't mean you can't avoid those calls. In our house, for example, we do it the old-fashioned way: we just don't answer the phone.

Ring-ring.

"The phone's ringing! "

Ring-ring.

"Shotgun not me! "

"I'm not getting it. "

Ring-ring.

"What if it's important? "

"If it's important, they'll leave a message."

And they usually do. If not, we can always star-69, and by "we " I mean my son, who is unable to let a missed call go unidentified, which at a $1 per shot, is an expensive way to find out which friend called to say "Wassup...?"

Perhaps that's why, a few weeks ago when a call from a Bell rep breached our tele-fortifications, I caved and subscribed to caller ID.

"Hooray! " said the kids

"Get rid of it, " said Deb.

"Why? It's cheap, it's convenient, no more missed calls," I rationalized. "And if you don't want to use it, just don't look at the display."

"I don't like it, " she said, true to her 24-year-old self.

I agreed to cancel it, but it took me a couple of days. Okay, a couple of weeks. I thought maybe she'd come around. And I promised myself I would use the feature only for good, not evil. I would not tele-snub. I would not answer the phone by shouting, "Hi, So-and-So, " which is really off-putting, don't you agree? I would use it only to track missed calls and avoid the ones that merited avoiding (take that, HBC collectors!).

But I screened.

I screened like nobody's business.

I screened like they were going to ban screening tomorrow.

And then one day I saw Deb checking the ID as the phone rang. She was screening too!

"Aha!" I thought, followed by, "Good Lord, who are we?"

So I cancelled caller ID. I'd like to apologize to anyone I may have tele-snubbed. Call me if you'd like to talk about it. Of course, we might not answer...

Ross Murray's collection, You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, is available in Quebec in area book stores and through www.townships.ca. He can be reached at ross_murray@sympatico.ca.

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