Video: Voicemail relief

By Bob Faw Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/15/2005 12:14:51 PM ET 2005-12-15T17:14:51

Ah, modern technology. It frees us to do so much more, so much faster. Right?

Paul English got so fed up with voice mail hell — you know, recorded messages, not real people — he set up his own Web site.  He's a software designer, driven to distraction by modern technology run amok.

"I don't want to talk to a computer," he says. "I want to talk to a human, and they don't let you do that."

English's site shows how to get from a wretched recording to living, breathing people.

"Yeah, I'm not sure I'd want to be known as the guy who created this technology," he says.

Leon Ferber — now rich and retired — is "the guy" who launched voice mail.

"My wife blames me," says Ferber. "She says, 'Look what you have done!'"

Companies use computers, says Ferber, because they're cheaper than people and, generally, more efficient.

"Let's face it," he says, "the fact it's so pervasive shows that it does something useful. Otherwise, it wouldn't be there."

It's far better, he insists, than the hands-on approach in the so-called "good old days" that were celebrated on "Laugh-In."

"Hey, ringy-dingy," said Lily Tomlin as Ernestine the operator.

Hey, Ernestine, ringy-dingy this: "I missed that; please re-enter your 10-digit wireless phone number," says a pre-recorded voice.

Cyber-babble like that has triggered more than 2 million hits on English's Web site. Clearly he's not the only one who wants to reach out and touch someone — anyone.

"People are speaking back," he says. "And they're telling these companies, 'I've had it. I don't want to go through this any more.'"

And so he's fighting technology meant to liberate.

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