Gotcha! Slow voicemail menus aren't just annoying...

...They're designed to eat up your airtime, pushing you into extra minutes and extra moolah for the carriers! This goes for both the menus you hear when someone doesn't pick up ("To page this person, press 2; to send a message, press 5..." Who ever does those first two things, anyway? Now it makes sense that they're the first ones listed in the menu.) and the menus you hear when you check your voicemail ("To listen to your messages; From six.. five... oh...two... six... nine..."). The damning evidence comes from technologist David Pogue, in the P.S. of this post on the calcification of US cell carriers:

"At the conference, I asked on cellular executive if that message is deliberately recorded slowly and with as many words as possible, to eat up your airtime... I was half kidding - but he wasn't fooling around in his reply: 'Yes.'"

For consumers' practical purposes, this revelation makes a solid argument for visual voicemail. (For those who have remained blissfully unaware of the iPhone hype, this is where voicemails are handled in any order like emails and played with a slider like any audio file, shown above and hopefully coming to more than just the iPhone very, very soon.) But it's also a heads-up to consumers that this kind of shenanigan can and does happen in all sorts of products. Toys are designed to break quickly, so Mom and Dad have to go back and buy more to placate an upset child. Demo software that comes installed on new computers isn't for your convenience, it's bait for the full version at best - or spyware at worst.

Why are we so besieged by our own belongings? First, because from the seller's point of view, it works: the audio menus do bring in extra profits, and so on. Second, because we don't even realize it's happening: we're very willing to attribute the slow menu to meticulousness, even thoughtfulness, on the cell carriers' parts. (Some people might need menus that slow, you know! How nice of AT&T.) Third, because the consumer's position is usually under-advocated in these elements of a product: it's very difficult for a company to give up the sure-thing extra money now (from long menus and more minutes) in exchange for the mere possibility of money later (gaining a reputation and then customer loyalty based on truly convenient design - a long and unlikely path).

And so it continues - we'll keep getting tricked by designed-in traps in our own products. But on the voice menu scam, they're busted!

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