phone planet

We are all connected, whether we like it or not.

Robocalls. Yeah, those.

Ring. Ringgggg. RINGGGGGGG. I reach over to my nightstand, fumbling my sleep mask up to see who’s calling my (very private) cell…and the glowing screen shows a random row of numbers, origin Lithuania.

This time, I put the phone on silent and sandwich it between pillows on the floor, irked that my precious sleep’s been interrupted, again.

In the last six months, I’ve been assaulted daily by robocalls, as have many others. In fact, when I look at my list of frequent contacts, Niger, Romania, Trinidad and Slovenia are the only friends who’ve reached out to me lately.

One day, I decided to answer one of those calls.

Perhaps we could have a dialogue. Maybe I’d even make a friend on the other side of the world. I could ask them the purpose of robocalls, if they ever worked, and explain why it was rude to use an algorithm to penetrate the lives of random complete strangers at all hours of the day or night, in order to…what, exactly? I’d tell them that this method of sales was not going to work, and to unsubscribe me, please, from whatever list I’m on. (I’ve already made sure I’m on the US Do Not Call registry.)

“Hello?” I said, to a caller marked Slovenia.

A long, vibrating hiss of cold emptiness filled my ear.

Not just nothing—this was a malevolent nothing, as if some icy demon made of dark smoke had reached out through the phone with a long, sticky black tongue that felt like death, and licked the side of my face.

I was marked. Known. Someone had me in their crosshairs, picked out via GPS. Out of all the suckers on the planet, here was one who’d been stupid enough to actually answer a robocall.

“F*ck you,” I said with fake bravery, because I never say that easily (or ever, if truth be known.) “Don’t call this number again.” I ended the call and blocked the caller, like I usually do.

(Whatever that actually means.)

I set the phone on the coffee table and stared at it.

It’s a fact that I’m trackable, knowable, branded and recorded…and not just by robocalls, or my temerity in answering one, but by the mere ownership of a cell phone. This tiny portable computer with a location chip pulses out my whereabouts and personal information on a constant, minute-by-minute basis.

I resent being reminded that my privacy is an illusion, that my sleep, my solitude, my life and family, can be invaded anytime by a random number generator in another country who is doing this for no discernable reason.

“Subscribe to one of those blocker services,” friends have said.

But what does that really mean? By doing so, I’ll give power to screen whoever reaches out to me to a third party, along with all of my personal information—and to add insult to injury, I’ll pay for that dubious privilege.

My characters often go “off the grid” to escape surveillance and interference—but the truth is, modern life is inconvenient when you’re off the grid. Ridesharing is impossible. Paying for things is challenging. Traveling takes real planning and actual paper maps to pull off. And communication? Most pay phones don’t even work. Who knows anyone else’s numbers anymore to call a friend from a burner phone? And if we did, would they pick up an unknown number? Probably not. The only numbers I dislike more than foreign robocalls, are cell phone calls marked UNKNOWN.

Everything’s stored in our phones…everything that makes us individuals, aka trackable bundles of moving data for apps to target for marketing.

Most of the time, this doesn’t bother me. I figure I don’t have anything to hide, and as long as that’s the case, who cares? I’m a thinking and thoughtful person who can weed my way through the spam that surrounds me, and if I give in to the occasional impulse buy of face cream or fancy dog treats from a convenient ad, as long as the product was worth what I paid, everyone’s a winner.

But robocalls tell me that larger forces are at work. They point to the unwelcome knowledge that our minds are being manipulated, that news and information is screened and distorted, and that what we put out in good faith via social sharing, becomes fodder for unknown agendas. Robocalls remind me that our last election was influenced by outside forces, and that we are living in a changed world because of it.

Robocalls reach in with their intrusive ringgggg, and disrupt my happy oblivion.

Phones, our lifeline of connection, can also be a weapon… and somewhere in Slovenia, my number has been noted as LIVE.

How do you handle robocalls, and the issues of privacy we all struggle with?

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