Answering machines have gotten worse

My old answering machine, which I’ve had since I graduated from high school, needs replacing. It was the first digital answering machine, an AT&T Model 1339, which competed with tape-based machines. It had a limit of one minute per message, and could store less than 20 minutes of audio total. But other than the memory restriction and an on/off button that was too easy to hit, it was flawless.

So we got a new one, a GE brand. GE is one of the only companies that still sells stand-alone answering machines. (Actually, from what I can tell, GE just lends a brand name to an importer.) It has an annoying synthesized voice (versus a professional, recorded voice on the old one) and it sometimes cuts off messages in the middle. I could live with it if it were actually capable of reliably recording messages.

We returned it, thinking it might just be defective, and replaced it with an identical one with the same problem. We’re ordering another (also a GE, but maybe actually from a different company) and with luck it will work.

These days, answering machines aren’t considered high-tech. A standalone answering machine is going the way of the standalone spell-checking program. As a result, even though the chips inside it have gotten a hundred times more powerful and there have been a dozen years to refine the design, a we-don’t-care attitude from manufacturers has resulted in worse technology.

For $100 I could get a card for my computer that would let it take messages, redirect calls, and act just like one of the computers I program at work, just with 23 fewer phone lines. I could play chess or Adventure over the phone with it, if I took a day to program it. But then I’d have to take a weekend to set it up, and I’d either spend far too much time playing with it, or be disappointed that I don’t have the time or creativity to do all the neat things I could do with it.

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