Wednesday, April 30, 2008




'On Answering the Telephone’ is a very humorous piece that very gently talks of the practical problems of the machines invented by man. This is actually a speech given over the radio. This essay bears some connection to the earlier essay which we have done –‘Spoon feeding’ wherein we saw W.R.Inge feeling sorry that machines have indeed made the telephone and sees more discomfort with it than advantages.


After reading this unit, you will able to

· list the merits and demerits of machines

· describe what witty writing is

· state the importance of bringing together the world as one unit

· explain the significance of the role of youth

Introduction to the Essay and the author

This essay opens up a very important debate about the merits and demerits of machines in general and the telephone in particular. As we study the essay in greater detail, we will get to know some of the main reasons as to why Plomer considers the telephone as a necessary evil. Besides, we will also get a good picture of want witty writing is all about.

This essay is an extract from the talk given by William Charles Plomer in the British Broadcasting Corporation. The essay focuses on the disadvantages of simple equipments that overshadow their advantages. He brings home the dependence of man on machines in a delightful manner. His recollections of his experience with these machines are indeed very funny and we cannot help agreeing with him that sometimes these machines do caused irritation in us.

William Plomer (1903-73) was born in Northern Transvaal, South Africa. He was a South African writer, who raised his voice against racism in his first novel, Turbot Wolfe (1925). His anti government sentiments came into conflict with the authorities and so he had to leave the country and settle in England. While in England, he wrote many reviews, gave broadcasts and served as editor in journals. Among his other novels, The Case is Altered (1932) and The Invaders (1934) are well-known.


Plomer begins the essay by saying that he does not have a telephone and that many people have been surprised at this. The author does not have one because he dislikes the idea of possessing it and is able to manage his daily life without it. But most people are shocked as to why he does not have one. They stare at him wildly and consider nom an eccentric. But for his part, he considers it an irritant and a waste of time. When a call that is expected keeps you waiting it cause unnecessary anxiety and suspense. Some other times, you may have to try a number that is constantly engaged. Speaking from the booth may be an equally horrible experience, as the booth may not be properly ventilated chocking us with cheap cosmetics and smoke.

Next he recalls a typical scene when a telephone rings. Very often it rings when we don’t want it to. Either when we are asleep or in the middle of a conversation or going out or taking bath. On these occasions, he suggests, that we should not be tempted to pick it up. Whatever may be the nature of the news it would anyway reach us. Equally absurd is the fact that we say ‘Hello’ to a total stranger. Since our names are printed in the telephone directory, our numbers are available to everybody. This gives rise to the possibility of unknown people calling us at all odd hours. He strongly believes that it is possibility to manage without telephones as in case of an emergency, we can always use public telephones which are large in number in England. He adds the remarks of an actor who said that if he were to be in lonely island. He would prefer to carry with him a telephone, bury its wires in the sand and derive great pleasures of watching it dead.

Telephone alone is not the cause of Plomer’s anger; he is equally disgusted with the typewriter and cars. When his friends suggested that he use a typewriter to type his letters to them, he decided to buy one. But then, as is always with his, he did not find it exciting to use. Though he learnt to type well, he did not appreciate the formation of letters in the typed format. He preferred the handwritten style to it. He was annoyed that the editors of publishing houses wanted only typed copies of his writing even if he could write neatly. Apart from its appearance, he rejected this machine as he never wanted to oil, or clean or repair it. Further the typewriter also did not like him. It would get jammed if he touched it. As for the cars he developed no liking for them either. He had been taught to drive in a busy city like Johannesburg and got his license at the young age of seventeen. When he visited another part of Africa where there was no motor traffic, driving was comparatively easier. So, he drove very fast and the speedometer broke. Soon driving also irritated him. He got bored and fed up of driving when traffic, especially in England, became heavy and rules strict.

William Plomer is not essentially against machines, but he is certainly against man’s undue dependence on them. He would not want to feed the typewriter with sheets of papers, he would rather use his legs to walk than lose the use of them by being driven in a car, or be called without prior information on the telephone. He is deadest against the domination of machines over man.


Pullipuli said...

thanks for the summery

cjoe said...

this was really a great help

Algernon Grayson said...

I enjoyed reading your blog
telephone answering