Wednesday, January 18, 2012

To Hear Your Message, Press 1

TigerBlog was in all day departmental retreat yesterday, one that began at 8 am with some really good breakfast sandwiches (TB had the bacon and egg and followed it up with a bagel with lox) and ended around 5 with a nice antipasto.

In between was lunch, some snacks and a lot of discussion about the past, present and future of the Princeton University Department of Athletics.

It's a twice-a-year exercise, one that gathers a group of people who have vastly different roles, skills and backgrounds, all in the name of Princeton Athletics. It features some discussion, some reporting, some data analysis, some ragging on each other.

In all there were 29 people around the table, and TB wonders how many of them could take a blank seating chart today and correctly fill in where everyone was sitting. TB isn't 100% sure of what the order was at the far end of the table to his left.

Anyway, the group took a few five-minute breaks through the day, breaks that normally extended to 10 or even 15 minutes.

During those breaks, TB always looked on his computer to check his email (and considered getting a smart phone).

At no point of the day did he check his voicemail at work.

When TB first started working here, voicemail was a huge deal. Almost everything revolved around learning the voicemail system, which was pretty tricky.

Within the system, there are messages and mailboxes, passwords, menus and any number of other sometimes confusing elements.

The old Tiger Sportsline was all about the voicemail system, and it was important to update and erase messages rather than the mailbox headings themselves. A few times, people did it backwards, plunging the Sportsline into chaos.

Accessing voicemail at Princeton requires dialing 609.258.6423. Within the University, extensions are always listed as 8 and then the number, so in the case of voicemail, it's always listed as 8-6423, or VOICE using the letters on the keypad.

Once connected to the system, the first thing you'll hear is a woman's voice that says "thank you for calling voicemail at Princeton University." TB isn't sure who the woman is, but he does know that it used to be a man's voice and that man's name was Tom Heller. One day, Tom Heller came into the office here, and it was like James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman had come in, with a voice so instantly recognizable.

At some point, your mailbox can't accommodate any more messages, and so the person attempting to leave one hears the dreaded "the mailbox belonging to so-and-so is full." TB thinks it might be 14 messages max.

In the mid-'90s, TB got dozens of voicemails a day and hundreds each month. The telephone office used to send a printout each month with the number of voicemails, and TB used to be impressed by how many people would call and leave messages needing stuff.

Of course, email has basically wiped out communicating by telephone. These days, TB hardly has any voicemails.

When he came in this morning, he realized that he'd never checked voicemail yesterday. The little black arrow next to the "message" button on his phone was lit, indicating that he had at least one.

To access voicemails, you have to dial into the system and enter the password, and then the lady's voice tells you how many messages you have. TB had one, and it wasn't even for him - it was for another person in the office.

For all that, the days of checking voicemail are dwindling. The University is going away from the voicemail system, and all voicemails will be sent directly to each person's email account, to be listened to via computer or phone.

TB is fine with that, as technology marches on.

Of course, whenever he thinks of voicemail, he'll think back to the day after Princeton beat UCLA in the 1996 NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Sitting in the mammoth media room at the RCA Dome (which no longer exists, by the way), TigerBlog would check his messages (14?) and then, by the time he'd returned all those calls (almost all to radio stations or newspapers looking to talk to Pete Carril or a player), he'd check his mailbox again - and it'd already be full.

This went on for what seemed like hours. At one point, TB got manager Miles Clark on a radio station in, he believes, Detroit.

Eventually the rush calmed down - or so he thought. Upon returning to his hotel room, TB had another 25 messages waiting for him.

Anyway, that's what TB will remember most about voicemail, just something else that used to be an everyday part of working here that hardly exists anymore, if it exists at all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I worked in the Telecommunications Department from 1990 until my retirement in 2001. Since then I have really been retired, and am enjoying it immensely .

My name is Tom Heller, former Voice Mail Systems Manager, Princeton University. Thank you for the Blog written Wednesday, January 18, 2012.
It was brought to my attention by my daughter Sarah, who resides in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota. Her husband Scott, read the Blog that morning, as he does most mornings. Their family has been keenly interested in the women's basketball program. They were here for Christmas...and of course had to attend one of the games, as they have been for several years. Both granddaughters, Abigail 12, and Caroline 9 participate in the basketball progams in school. They are both super students...and just maybe prospective Princeton students.

Back to Voice Mail. It was always a pleasure to assist with the program in the Athletic department, as you people discovered the value early on. Many other departments were "hard sell", and I suspect there were some who never caught on. Speaking of "hard sell". My appointment with Coach Carril was
probably the most hilarious hour ever spent trying to convince folks of the value of the product. I started by explaining how his rival at Villinova used the system in recruiting. Well...a cigar or two later, I was given a board talk with reference to what other universities had (money wise and scholarship wise)and left his office a defeated salesman. I failed to block every one of his three pointers. What a great guy! Those who had the wonderful experience of playing for him were extremely fortunate.

Anyway I miss some of those good times. I have since defeated cancer, have replaced my right knee, and am facing surgery for the left knee this coming April. My wife of over fifty years, Sally, and I have traveled to England,
Scotland, and Wales, the Great Northwest, and to France where we visited Normandy and the beaches where we shall always remember the sacrifices made by our armed forces to free folks from tyranny. We enjoy our Long Beach Island home, from mid May until the latter part of September.

To those who remain in the department that I have worked with "hello", you are doing a great job over there. Keep the faith...and to you new have landed jobs in a wonderful department.

Take care...and Thank you!!