I give out my phone number freely, all over the world.
I put it on my Facebook profile. I give it to people I’m only going to talk to once in my life. I throw it in my email signature, on scripts or notebooks I’m using, and on business cards I pass out to all and sundry. And this is my personal phone number I’m talking about, not some office line or a demo phone I tote around for fun. It’s a direct link to me.
Lets get this out of the way now: no, I’m not putting my digits here in this post, or in the comments. I may be reckless, but I’m not stupid.
For most people, treating something as personal as a phone number with such abandon would be unthinkable. So viewed a certain way, phone numbers being long and difficult to remember can be seen as a benefit: securing one means storing it to your phone’s address book, or at the very least writing it down on a cocktail napkin (or your palm). That extra step protects would-be spam victims from a lot of unsolicited calls. And efforts by companies to create a Yellow Pages-like directory of mobile phone numbers, as was done for the landlines of yesteryear, have been met with fierce resistance: people like their anonymity, and they’ll fight to preserve it.
So that’s why most folks don’t go around plastering their digits on bathroom walls themselves, leaving that duty to jaded exes and drunk morons. Perhaps the most famous victim of this type of information misuse was the probably-fictitious woman named Jenny, whose name and number may or may not have provided the inspiration for one of the most famous pop songs of the 1980s, “867-5309.”
So how do I survive throwing my number all over town, without people calling me at all hours asking for Jenny? Simple: I use Google Voice. My phone number isn’t a product of the normal public switched telephone network, but a custom-assigned series of digits straight from Google, nee GrandCentral Communications. It also happens to be a pretty awesome vanity number, but that’s neither here nor there.
I’ll talk more about Google Voice in another editorial, but the pertinent feature here is its call-blocking ability. If I receive a call or a text from anyone I don’t like, I can block that person forever, with two clicks on a drop-down menu in the web interface.
Further SMSes from the person won’t be delivered, and calls will be met with a very authentic-sounding recording indicating my number has been disconnected. It’s an incredibly handy feature for dealing with robo-calls, stalkers, and those people who can’t seem to fathom that no, Shaniqua don’t live here no more.
So I can block anyone I like, and I can do it with the simplest of steps. But that’s only true because I use a third-party call-forwarding solution that most people still haven’t heard anything about. There are other ways to go about blocking calls: a slew of apps exist on the major platforms’ marketplaces for this purpose, and some devices offer limited functionality to keep annoying callers from blowing up your phone 24/7.
But if you’re not lucky enough to have a smartphone with that option, and won’t or can’t download an app to serve the same purpose, you’re stuck trying to contact your carrier to block a number for you. In America, most providers will do it, but the procedure is inconsistent for each. AT&T, for example, provides a version of “selective call rejection” that will block up to twelve different phone numbers on the carrier side; it’s activated by dialing a star code and slaloming through a voice interface. Verizon Wireless offers its customers similar functionality online at MyVerizon, but only offers support for blocking up to five numbers. Sprint allows online management of blocked numbers on its CDMA network, but customers on its iDEN network need to use handset-level features to achieve the same end.
If none of that works for you, the do-it-yourselfers out there have for years taken a different tack: just download a “silent” ringtone and conditionally attach it to numbers you don’t want to pick up. Or you can choose the monumentally inconvenient option of changing your phone number.
So there are options out there. It’s not impossible to prevent annoying, harassing, or otherwise unwelcome calls, but it is inconvenient, because the steps for blocking those calls are different depending on your carrier. And what if you prefer texting to calling? Unwanted and wrong-number texts are at least as annoying as their voice-call brethren, but the options for blocking inbound SMS messages are much more sparse, especially for non-smartphone users who lack access to third-party apps. For them, it’s essentially all-or-nothing; they can turn off all texts, or just take the good with the bad. There’s no in-between.
Mobile phones have been around for over two decades now. Their primary function has remained unchanged through all that time: they exist to connect you with other people. But sometimes, the people “giving you a jingle” aren’t people you want to communicate with. In such cases, there should be a unified, standardized approach to blocking that connection. Whatever the resistance to this notion, be it monetary considerations from carriers’ billing departments or technological hurdles from their engineering groups, the needs of consumers should surmount them. Because in an era where everyone is reachable all the time, everybody deserves a personal communicator that doubles as social gatekeeper.
“867-5309 Jenny” information source: Snopes
Call-blocking tips via Lifehacker