March 10th, 2012

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#534 – Dick Bernard: The Robocall

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

On a day like today it is difficult to imagine that ten days ago we were experiencing our single day of snowy winter in the month of February. Our local welcoming presence, the carved bear at the corner of Sherwood and Juliet, seemed to be reveling in the snow.

at Juliet and Sherwood, February 29, 2012

But February 29 was an interesting day….

The phone rang at 6 a.m.

In our house, if the phone rings that early (I can’t recall a similar happening) it’s something serious, or a wrong number.

I picked up the phone and on came a pleasant authoritative male voice: “This is Superintendent _____, _____ schools will open two hours late.

It was all very appropriate. Ten seconds and he was gone. There had been snow predictions the previous evening.

The only problems: the Superintendent was calling from a school district many miles from ours; and we haven’t had kids in school for many years.

It was a head-scratcher.

A couple of hours later came an anguished e-apology from the culprit, a highly competent and respected school person.

I’m a retired member of a public school related association, and our colleague had loaned our organization her equipment to get out a notice about an event. It was all perfectly appropriate, but she had forgot to delete us from the robo-call list, and was embarrassed.

Several of us got into a brief flurry of good-natured on-line bantering, and reminiscing about past events. One retiree said “Hey, no problem! Reminded me of those gawdawful no-win snow days! Half the town wants a snow day to play with their kids and the other half has a crisis at the office!”

Back in the day when my oldest child started school – 1969 – I seem to recall the drill for such events. Snow emergencies would be announced on WCCO-AM 830 (Minneapolis), so if the weather looked suspect, we’d tune in to Roger Erickson and Maynard Speece, cracking jokes as usual and reading school closing announcements for Minnesota. It was good for us, and certainly good for WCCO Radio! (Seems I recall they had to clean up their usual farm-yard humor act a bit, too. There was a different audience.)

There was no capacity for robocalls, of course. Phone trees (one call ten, who each call ten, etc.) might have been used some places, but they were subject to human whim.

Oh, how things have changed.

We are wired in ways we older-timers cannot even imagine.

Later the same week I was at a major ticketed event at the Ted Mann Theatre at the University of Minnesota.

“Ticket takers” these days scan the tickets, and if you’re legal you can go through.

I was about to check in and the lady – rather her scanner – was not able to read my name tag. Her colleague was having the same problem with his device.

So puzzling.

A techie looking guy came over, looked over the display on the scanners, and left.

Shortly thereafter a pleasant sounding lady came on and asked all of the people in the foyer to turn off their smartphones: the Mann wi-fi was overloaded.

In a minute or two we were on our way in. The program started ten minutes late, with apologies.

Technology is wonderful.

But sometimes I wonder, wouldn’t it be nice….

PS: Two hours after the 6 a.m. call I was asked to pick up our grandson at his school in Woodbury. His school had been closed due to a power outage, and they were sending the kids home. I went to the school, getting there about 8:30. The power was back on. But they were still closing school.

Half of the kids had already gone by the time the power came on; there was no justification for keeping the others. EVERYBODY would be punished.

Our grandson enjoyed the day off….