I bought my first answering machine in 1989 or 1990. It was a small black rectangle with a miniature cassette tape. It blinked red when it had messages. How I hated it, for the machine confirmed that very few people called me. Eventually, I switched to voicemail. Now I cringe when I see the blue light flashing at me, a light so bright and pulsing that I can see it through the frosted glass as I unlock the door. Fran Leibowitz was right: Adolescence is the last time you’ll ever be glad to hear the phone is for you. My adolescence lasted into my 30s, but so what.
Today, I was writing a scene set in 1983. The character has an answering machine. Possible? Probable? Who — that is, what type of person — had answering machines in 1983? What did they look like? How large were they? How cumbersome to use? Did they broadcast the incoming message into the world or muffle it?
I thought it fairly cheesy when Sex and the City was using the unintentionally unmuted answering machine well into the 21st century, just to provide a plot point. But I don’t want to be guilty of anachronism in the other direction, providing someone with technology he might not have. So if your answering machine memories lead me to a solution, so much the better.
(Oh, and did anyone resist the urge to be clever with the outgoing message on that first answering machine? I know I didn’t.)
Your memories after the beep.