When the history of the 20th century is written a special place must be set aside for the invention of the junk telephone call. Many people have claimed credit for this great boon to mankind including Vladamir Gluck, whom I visited in his spacious offices.
Gluck, who likes to call himself the "King of Junk Telephone Calls," believes that as the postal service gets worse the telephone will replace the junk letter as a means of reaching every reluctant consumers in the country.
"I'm not knocking junk mail," Gluck told me. "It served its purpose for a long time and we're all grateful to it. But you have to keep up with the times. If anyone is to blame for us going to junk telephones calls it's the consumers."
"How's that?" I asked.
"The consumer did not treat our junk mail with enough respect. Many threw it in the wastepaper basket without even reading it. It was an outrage. We put on the envelopes that if they opened our letters they could win $1 million in prizes, trips to Europe and Hawaii, $150,000 homes, but people still kept throwing away our sales pitches. They treated us very shabbily considering all the time and effort we put into attracting their attention. We had to figure out a way of getting into people's homes without being ignored."
"And so you came up with the junk telephone call?"
"The consumer left us no choice. The direct mail people decided that if people were going to throw away junk mail, our only option was to call them on the phone and speak to them directly."
"That was good thinking," I said.
"We used to have 100 people manning phones out there in the main room, but it was too expensive and many of us were getting discouraged about it. But then someone invented a telephone-calling computer. It was programmed to talk to a consumer just like a human being, and may people though they were talking to a live person. The beauty of it was that the computer could work day and night and had the ability to call back the person when his line was busy or he was out.
"With the breakthrough of the computer the telephone junk call was no longer a cottage industry."
"I'll bet Alexander Graham Bell had no idea when he invented the telephone that it would save the junk mail business."
"The beauty of the junk telephone call is that you can now get into somebody's home and he or she can't ignore you. People have to answer their telephone ring because they have no idea who is on the other end."
"Don't they get mad when the phone rings and some computer on the other end is trying to sell them and encyclopedia?"
"Some do, but the computer is programmed to expect rejection. It never loses its cool. It's even programmed to calm down those people who tell it off. But our research has revealed that many people with children, particularly teen-agers, have a great fear that when the phone rings it's going to bring bad news. So when they anxiously pick it up and discover it is only a company trying to sell them life insurance, they are so relieved that they'll order the policy without thinking twice about it. One survey we took showed that 87 percent of all telephone owners would rather get a junk telephone message than a call from one of their children after 10 o'clock at night."
"There are people who are trying to outlaw junk telephone calls by claiming they are an invasion of privacy."
Gluck said angrily, "If the Avon lady can knock on your door, there is no reason why a junk telephone call can't get you out of the bathtub."