Since the popularization of answering machines in the 1970s, they’ve acted as excellent expositional devices in television, movies and plays. They enable a very efficient means of conveying information to the audience while the performers are free to do other things (snog, cook dinner, whatever).
The musical Rent, for example, puts the device to good use and comic effect, by having the leads’ parents call and sing harassing messages into the phone.
I just saw the excellent, off-beat character study that is Half-Nelson. The protagonist, played superbly by Ryan Gosling, has an answering machine. It’s put to work providing exposition and pushing the plot along.
The only person I know that still has an answering machine is a seventy-year-old woman. For several years, I’ve felt like answer machines only exist in Hollywood. That is, even though real people have switched to voice mail, their movie and television counterparts seem desperately attached to their whirring machines.
Admittedly, Gosling’s character is an inner-city American school teacher and crack addict, but you’d think he could afford voice mail.
I’m not saying they’re a lousy solution. They just seem to be going the way of the dinosaur everywhere except our movie theatres, stages and TV screens.
Do you use an answering machine? Don’t be ashamed, but you can comment anonymously, you know.
UPDATE: All right, let’s get slightly scientific about this. I created a little insta-poll so that we can compare the answering machinists to the voicemailers.
UPDATE #2: I hereby recant my conclusions and assumptions (ass, you, me, and so forth) about answering machines. Clearly, while my friends and family are just keen on the voicemail, they are aberrations in world that still digs the answering machine.
UPDATE #3: The poll was running really slow, so I took it out.