Herald Journal Columns
August 14, 2006, Herald Journal

Why schedule a call to yourself?

By MARK OLLIG

Have you ever been in a situation where you hoped your cell phone would ring? Possibly you wanted to look more important in front of others? Or simply, you just needed an excuse to escape from an uncomfortable meeting.

I found this new fun phone project on the web that was created by two students at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program called “The Popularity Dialer.”

With the Popularity Dialer, you can plan ahead. Using a program at their website: http://popularitydialer.com, you can enter a telephone number that you want to be called from at on a particular date and time. Not only will your phone ring, you will also hear a “prerecorded message conversation” that’s one half of a “normal” conversation.

You will be prompted to have a “fake” conversation that will easily fool those around you into thinking you are having a real conversation. Not only are you talking, but there is someone talking on the other end of the phone too!

The idea for the Popularity Dialer started when two students came across a reading about how popular some people became by the number of interruptions they received, ex: phone calls, while in the presence of others. This made them “popular” or “important” in the eyes of those around them.

This idea of instant popularity became the driving force in creating a web-based interface to allow people to enter, say, their cell phone number, and the date and time they wanted it to ring. A choice of prerecorded messages is chosen from a list. Some of these message choices include: “The Boss Call,” “The Affirmation Call,” “The Cousin in Need Call,” and “The Popularity Call,” using a female or male voice.

These prerecorded voices talk to you in a completely natural voice, I have heard a couple of these messages and they are very convincing. You can hear them, too, at the website.

After you have set up your choices and entered your phone number to be rung, all you need to do is wait and smile. When the time arrives when you are in that meeting or party, your phone will ring (at the time you selected), and you will hear the prerecorded message conversation begin.

Anyone near your phone will also hear that someone is talking to you. This conversation will have pauses strategically placed so you can talk, thus giving the illusion that you are actually having a real conversation . . .of course, I think this will be more convincing if the others around you are hearing both sides of this “conversation.”

Activating the cell or home phone’s speaker would be the way to go here, as I tried it on mine to test and it does work pretty well. You need to hear the message ahead of time (which you can do at their website) in order to somewhat prepare your responses so that the conversation appears natural. On their website, you can click to hear any of the prerecorded conversation messages, so you will be able to know ahead of time what the conversation will consist of and where the pauses are where you will be speaking. Sort of like knowing the lines ahead of time for a play.

The idea is that you will be able to have this “fake” conversation and easily fool those around you.

I first learned about this when I was driving into work and heard it on an FM public radio stations broadcast. They talked with the students that started this program, and played some of the messages with the interaction of the called party.

I must admit that the conversation seemed natural. One of the better messages was when the boss calls you and says in a loud and urgent voice that they need you back to work right away as there is an emergency and you must return to work.

This would be a good message to use when you know you will be attending an event or meeting that you wish you could get out of. Pretty sneaky, huh? Make sure your speaker is on so the others can hear it too.

The Popularity website shows that the most “popular” states using this free service are: California at 13 percent, New York and Texas with 9 percent, and Florida at 5 percent.

The students are looking for sponsors, as right now they are supporting this program and paying for the calls! They hope to sell ads for the sponsors by ending these prerecorded messages with a tag of “this message is brought to you by ---.”

Future plans also call for Popularity Dialer calls activated via text message.

You can also check out the website’s frequently asked questions (FAQ) for more information.

Now, I am not advocating that you use this “planned call interruption” when you should not be using it. I am just your humble columnist and I like to present anything new out there on the web that I find that might be interesting . . . however, I think I might find a possible use for this “Popularity Dialer” someday.