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Which Part of 'No' Don't You Understand?

Erik is out of the office this week partly because of the Fourth of July week, but also because it was his birthday the week before. He retreated to some spa, whining about his "mouth wrinkles," so we're republishing a piece from 2003.

It's not something I like to talk about, but when I was in college I did something I'm not proud of.

I was a telemarketer.

Okay, I was only a telemarketer for about three hours, but still, it was pretty traumatic.

It was my last summer in college, and I was looking for a part-time job. I called a company I found in a classified ad, and I was hired right over the phone. I should have been suspicious when I was hired based purely on how I sounded. There was no application, no background check, and no questions about whether I got disgruntled easily or owned any guns.

The "business" was a single room in an office complex with three folding tables, six folding chairs, six phones, and two windows that didn't open. That normally wouldn't matter, but out of the six people there, I was the only one who didn't smoke. Everyone else was like those smokestacks on anti-pollution ads.
My job was to call local businesses written on a stack of index cards and get donations for the Fraternal Order of Police. I would get paid 50 percent of any donations. But I realized the deck was literally stacked against me when I got all the small businesses, while my boss' buddy got all the big businesses and previous donors.

I coughed and hacked my way through three hours without a single donation and enough smoke in my lungs to set off a fire alarm. So when I left for lunch, I didn't go back.

That experience left a bitter taste in my mouth for a week, although it could have been the second-hand smoke. After that, I've had mixed feelings about telemarketers.

On the one hand, I feel sorry for the people who try to earn a living by calling complete strangers. On the other hand, I hate them.

So I'm torn: do I put myself in their tobacco-stained shoes and be as kind as possible when I say no? Or do I hang up as soon as they stumble over my name and start reading their script?

It's not that I get annoyed that they call me at all. It's that some telemarketers are so pushy they won't take "NO!" for an answer, even when I've said it 37 times.

One guy even started talking louder when I tried to explain that I wasn't interested in new windows for my house because it was less than five years old.

"Alright, you've convinced me. I'll listen," I said.

He stopped talking. "Really?"

"No," I said and hung up.

My problem was solved when the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communication Commission launched the national "Do Not Call" list. You can join it by calling (888) 382-1222 or visiting DoNotCall.gov.

But the telemarketers aren't happy that people have registered at (888) 382-1222 or DoNotCall.gov. They think it's an infringement on their First Amendment rights.

According to an Associated Press story, Tim Searcy of the American Teleservices Association said ". . . the FCC ignored its obligations under the federal law and the Constitution to carefully balance the privacy interests of consumers with the First Amendment rights of legitimate telemarketers."

What Searcy doesn't seem to understand is that the First Amendment only guarantees the right to free speech, it doesn't guarantee you an audience. Especially at dinnertime. It means I don't have to sit through TV commercials, listen to protest groups as I walk down the street, or read literature shoved at me by radical cult members. And it certainly doesn't mean I have to listen to pushy telemarketers asking me if I'm satisfied with my long distance carrier.

So I have a harsh, but much-needed message for the telemarketers: We. . . how do I put this. . . ? We, uhh. . . we just don't like you.

I'm sorry. It's not you. It's not you at all. It's us. We like our privacy. We need our space. That's why we've registered at (888) 382-1222 or DoNotCall.gov. So please don't call anymore. Maybe someday, when we're both older and more mature, we can try again. But until then, we want to talk to other people. So don't call, don't write, and don't send email.

In the meantime, we'll use our caller ID to screen calls from numbers we don't remember. Or we'll dial *77 on our touch-tone phones to reject anonymous calls. (2017 Update: If you have a mobile phone, you can download apps like Mr. Number to block spam callers. Here's the iOS version or Android version)

But we'll think of you often. Especially every five years when our registration expires, and we have to reregister at (888) 382-1222 or DoNotCall.gov.


Photo credit: OddibeKerfeld (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)


You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

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