Telephones were the subject of an earlier column. The exponential growth in the number of phones and their uses has, in my judgment, created inefficiency, confusion, and an outright lack of civility.

In the lexicon of telephone company services, the ultimate oxymoron, the most blatant misrepresentation of an implied promise is Directory Assistance, or what we used to refer to in the dark ages as Information.

Directory Assistance is universally accessed by connecting a known area code to 555-1212. Not knowing the area code for the city or town in which you are trying to find a number is another whole adventure in the struggle to master wireless automation, but we’ll set the area code quest aside for another time.

I don’t really remember when you stopped being able to dial a real person in the actual city in which you were trying to locate a number. That primitive technology generally produced a courteous, knowledgeable reply and a willingness to keep trying until the name, address, number problem was solved. I often suspected the operator simply looked up the number in the most current phone book.

Today, for the most part, the quality of the few people involved in operator assistance, even at the supervisory level, is abysmal. In most places, computers take the initial call and ask for the city and state. The network then contacts a person. Experience indicates a success ratio of no better than 1 in 4.

Real life examples: During a recent boat trip in Northern Lake Michigan I wanted to call the Petoskey Municipal Marina to reserve a slip. The real person I finally reached told me that the computer indicated that there was not, within 20 miles of Petoskey, a marina. I asked her what she asked the computer and discovered she had spelled marina with an “e”. Once again she asked the computer and told me the marina did not exist. I asked to speak to her supervisor. An even more verbally challenged individual became very belligerent when I suggested that there really is a large well-established marina in Petoskey.

I asked her where she was. She said El Paso, Texas. It would be hard for someone in El Paso, Texas, armed only with a computer to know where Michigan is, let alone Petoskey, or what marina means. She hung up. After three additional calls, two more supervisors, the number for the Petoskey City Marina was found – at considerable expense as I was using a cell phone.

Buffalo Tobacco Traders is Grand Rapids’ oldest and only retailer of fine cigars. They have had the same phone number for over 30 years. On this same trip, I called 616 (Grand Rapids area code)555-1212, as I just couldn’t recall the number. Three different operators assured me the Buffalo did not exist. I called my office and asked my associate to look it up in the directory. Neither the listing nor the number had changed in my absence.

Letters to AT&T and Verizon have gone unanswered. Perhaps one of my readers would be kind enough to explain it to me.