Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. His column appears in Indiana newspapers, and his views can be followed on a podcast: https://mortonjohn.libsyn.com.
He was very pale and dressed in shades of gray. His business card read A.G. Bell. No address or contact information. Only the name. His Scottish accent was filtered through a generous white beard.
“Youngster,” he said. “I be disturbed by excessive ringing in me ears.”
“Tinnitus,” I was quick to diagnose. “I have it. It’s a continuous hissing sound that’s always in the background. Comes with age.”
“I not be thinking that,” Mr. Bell said. “It’s truly ringing of me telephone. Not continuous, but frequent and excessive.”
“Your popularity?” I offered. “So many folks wanting to talk with you. It’s a good thing you don’t put your phone number on your business card. Nonetheless our numbers do get out. And they do get used by all sorts of people.”
“Six times in a single hour!” he roared. “Not one of them a call from someone I knew or even one who knew me. All of them trying to get into me purse for things or purposes.”
“Ah, yes,” I said knowing the correct diagnosis now. “Unsolicited solicitations. Folks trying to sign you up for more comprehensive health insurance, advanced home safety systems, better credit cards, and exceptional good causes.”
“It’s an abomination,” He cried. “An instrument laboriously invented for communication being used as an intrusive commercial bludgeon! The sanctity of the home invaded by automatons, minor minions, and morons!”
“You can sign up electronically with the Attorney General’s office to stop the calls,” I suggested to calm him.
“Useless bureaucratic buffoonery proven by experience to be ineffective, offering a gullible citizenry protection and failing to deliver even a modicum of serenity,” was his evaluation.
“What could we do?” I asked.
“Ah, it’s not we, but they,” he replied. “It is not for consumers to protect themselves, but for the providers of communication services to weed out the invasive callers.
“It need be treated as one would a public health matter,” he continued. “Producers and distributors of milk are required to provide the consumer with a safe product. Government regulation establishes standards with input from medical and industry representatives.
“So too the phone be meant for communication, not exploitation. Whether a phone be in your home or on your person, as be the case today, t’is a private resource.”
“That fits,” I said, “with the news AT&T and Verizon will stop selling real-time customer location data to third parties.”
“A fine promise,” Mr. Bell said, “but what about putting an end to commercial, political and even philanthropic robo-calls? I don’t mind legitimate surveys conducted by licensed polling entities. We need to gather information. But selling or hounding contributors and debtors by phone verges on the immoral in my view.”
As he offered these last thoughts, he was fading, not just in voice, but disappearing before my eyes. And then he was gone.