This morning I mentioned my telephone answering machine in passing and a colleague reacted as though I had just confessed to still having an 8-track in my car.
“You must be the last person on the planet to still be using one,” he said dismissively.
In fact, I am not. It took me all of two attempts to find another colleague who also still has an honest-to-goodness physical answering machine.
A bit of Googling failed to produce any statistics, but it did uncover a New York Times story reporting on what was then a relatively new phenomenon of answering-machine ownership by consumers. It was published in 1982, which -- pardon me for living -- doesn’t seem all that long ago.
Originally, telephone answering machines were used almost exclusively by professional and business people who didn't have full-time secretaries. Now, families use them to keep in touch with one another and single people have them to be sure they don't miss any personal calls.
A telephone answering service may cost $25 or more a month, but a machine is essentially a one-time expense like a stereo or a television set, which makes it more affordable to nonprofessionals. Electronics manufacturers are also coming out with machines geared to the home market. These are less costly and less complicated to operate than those designed for business.
Last year's retail sales of all makes of answering machines were estimated at $140 million in a survey by Phone-Mate, one of the largest-selling manufacturers of such devices. About 40 percent of the sales were for machines costing less than $140. People in the industry presume that those were bought for home use.
Why do I still have an answering machine, especially given that I’ll go days without checking it and even longer without it recording a message? Primarily because it’s been there for many years ago and I’d never given removing it a moment of thought before being ridiculed about having it this morning. But also because it is tied to a landline to which I cling for a variety of reasons.
No, it is not connected to a rotary phone.