Pamela Paul of the New York Times wrote a perceptive article on the decline of the use of the telephone.
One problem with the telephone, which Pamela only touches upon, is that the wrong people call--rude pests, for the most part, neither friends nor acquaintances, but cold-calling telemarketers, organizations looking for handouts, or collection agencies with inaccurate data in their database. Collection agencies, in particular, are both persistent and pernicious. They use computerized dialers, rather than human beings, and will call using a variety of telephone numbers, every day, multiple times a day, never ceasing, and in some cases not even leaving a message, but disconnecting as soon as the phone is answered. They call in order to harass, to apply pressure. In essence, they are using the telephone as a weapon against the telephone user.
There exists, as might be expected, a technological solution to technological aggression. Call Clerk is a robotic butler that intercepts and routes calls depending upon their Caller ID. It requires a PC equipped with a modem to be left on twenty-four hours a day, which may seem wasteful of electricity but, in truth, nowadays it is nice to have a PC on all the time in order to check email and browse the Internet. I would suggest using a laptop for the purpose if energy consumption is an issue, although Intel has created admirable energy misers for the desktop in the form of the Atom line of processors. I am no longer a fan of AMD's solutions, because AMD uses ATI for video in its line of gpus, and ATI offers woefully inadequate support for Linux.
Call Clerk routes identified pests to an announcement that tells them they have been cast into the outer darkness. Then it disconnects their call after only two rings, limiting the annoyance factor. In conjunction with Call Clerk, all telephone ringers should be disabled, with the PC speakers remaining the only audible signal of phone calls. Friends and unknown callers receive a friendly message and are permitted to leave a message. They are announced via the PC speakers.
Call Clerk transforms the telephone from what it is today, a potential liability and a threat, a weapon of harassment against the user, and returns it to what Alexander Graham Bell envisioned it to be, a convenient form of communication.
Configuring the answering message in Call Clerk is difficult at best, particularly if any type of changes are desired. There is no option to change or reduce the volume of the answering message in Call Clerk. The answering machine options are counter-intuitive, capable of defeating even the most determined and technically savvy user from making any modifications whatsoever to the outgoing message.
Perhaps in the future, a program will become available that can use .mp3 files as an answering machine message and play them without distortion. Until that time, Call Clerk remains an interim solution, satisfactory in some, if not all respects. It does not have a Linux version, but requires Windows, which adds an extra $75 - $100 to the actual cost of the product, along with the many other hidden costs associated with Windows systems. However, it does work with Windows XP and does the job I purchased it for, which is to weed out harassing calls.
In an ideal world, telephone pests that call on a daily basis for months without end would be identified, arrested by the police in their locality, and prosecuted for harassment. But the agencies that pester people by telephone on a daily basis have managed to dodge government action for the most part, including the so-called "Do-Not-Call" Registry, which is an unfunny joke that lulls the naive into a false sense of security.