The Growth of The Answering Machine - Let No Phone
The Growth of The Answering Machine - Let No Phone
Humans are fascinating people. While we are extremely robust and adapt well to almost any situation and environment, we're also easily trained into developing habits that are impossible to break. This is especially apparent with the need and desire to answer a ringing phone. That sound forces us to want to act; we might be missing something important, something funny, some major opportunity or piece of news. We sometimes even want to answer someone else's phone when it rings.
We'll scramble out of bed or drop what we're doing - on a dime - to make sure the phone is answered. The thought of missing those calls is so appalling to some that we developed ways to never miss a call again. Think it's just modern people pushing for the technology? Not at all.
As long as phones have been ringing, people have been trying to find a way to avoid missing those calls.
The 'Telegraphone' - A Sales Rep's Worst Nightmare
Of course there wasn't a great deal of telemarketing taking place during the time, but Valdemar Poulsen wanted to offer people a way to record telephone conversations and phone calls. In 1898 he created the Telegraphone, which was a magnetic wire recorder. It is considered to be the first practical device for recording telephone conversation and paved the way for commercial answering machines to come.
Those systems were a far cry from the digital voicemail we use today. Our electronic systems - which can run either server side (at a telco or phone provider) or client side (within a central, local networked system) record data in a digital format. This data can be easily retrieved from any location - even over the web. Answering machines like the early Telegraphone - and the models to follow - were/are typically installed alongside - or are incorporated within - the telephone system in a residence or business.
Stumbling through Invention and Optimization with Answering Machines
While many companies and individuals dabbled with the technology, attempting to create a commercial answering machine that was viable on the market, it wasn't until 1960 that a quality answering machine was created.
The popular commercial answering machines would record to magnetic tape via reels or cassettes and often had a two-tape system in place that was setup for incoming and outgoing messages. This setup allowed the machine to answer the phone, playback the outgoing message (the recorded greeting) then switch to the recording tape to handle the incoming message.
In single tape systems, the greeting was held at the beginning of the tape. Once the greeting was played, the machine would fast-forward to the next available space on the tape to record the incoming message. Naturally this created a bit of a delay for a heavily used answering machine when there were numerous messages.
Cutting Through the Tape
Magnetic tape was a popular recording format that had widespread use, from answering machines to personal dictation recorders and especially within the music industry. Even still, many sought a cost-effective format for repeated recording as tape often wore out quickly when it was used again and again.
While a variety of devices came to fruition through the 60's and the 70's (such as the Phonemate answering machine in 1971 - which held 20 messages and allowed call-screening) it wasn't until the early 80's that another option was created. In 1983, Dr. Kazuo Hashimoto of Japan invented the first automatic digital Telephone Answering Device (TAD) to be used both in a commercial and residential environment.
Despite the explosive popularity of the digital answering machine, many continued to use answering machines that recorded media to micro or standard size cassette tapes. For some it was a matter of personal preference, others a matter of security and comfort with the new digital technology. Unfortunately for those people, digital technology would only continue to grow.
Answering the Call of Digital Media
Today, cassette based answering machines can still be found, purchased and used for answering and recording phone calls however the vast majority of the world relies on digital answering machines and voicemail. As technology advances, those digital systems are becoming ever more diverse and intricate with new interactive functions added to enhance the user experience.
While older voicemail systems were simplistic in function (deliver the greeting and record the message), new digital answering systems have prompts and voice recognition to help direct a caller to a specific menu, department, voicemail box, etc.
No advancement of technology is capable of taking away the human component however, as is evident by the (still) widespread use of human-operated answering services; some people still prefer to speak with people. Ultimately it comes down to a matter of preference, but choice aside - with all the effort put into this specific niche of technology it's obvious that we cannot let that phone ring out to nothing.
Like Pavlov's dog, we're programmed at the sound of the bell to respond - thankfully answering machines and answering services keep us from running a marathon through our home and business each time someone calls to sell us on a new time share opportunity.