Help File

By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, June 15, 2008

Q Is there any escape from all the useless prompts (send a numeric page, leave a callback number, blah blah blah) I have to sit through before leaving a voice-mail message on somebody's cellphone?

AThe total time wasted by these instructions, which play after a person's recorded greeting, could add up to millions of hours a year. But to what end? Has anybody ever done anything after hearing the leave-me-a-message greeting but, you know, leave a message? Are the conspiracy theorists correct to think that these options exist only to run up people's airtime?

Representatives for AT&T Wireless, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless all said that enough customers use and appreciate the other options to justify their existence, but they did not provide usage statistics to document that contention. (T-Mobile did not answer these questions.)

The publicists did, however, describe how to skip both a voice-mail greeting and the prompts after it by pressing the right key on your phone. If you're calling a AT&T subscriber, pressing 0 will usually let you start recording your message right away; with a Sprint customer, press 1. for a Verizon user, use the * key, and when phoning a T-Mobile subscriber, hit the # key.

Because each of these companies somehow managed to pick a different shortcut key, you can do callers a favor by reminding them of the right button to press in your greeting.

Sprint users can also change their voice-mail settings to inflict one fewer prompt on callers. Call your voice mail from your phone, press 3 to enter the "personal options" menu, press 1 to change your settings, then press 6 to deactivate the "leave a callback number" prompt. Your friends will thank you.

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 Turn to Thursday's Business section or visithttp://washingtonpost.comanytime for his Fast Forward column.

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