Acquiring Someone’s Phone Number – a Window into a Stranger’s Life

basket-of-apples

I started a new job last summer and one of the perks/drawbacks was a company iPhone.

As with any new job, I was hyper and nervous, worried about the learning curve yet eager to please. So when the phone vibrated with a call the first day I had it, a multitude of thoughts raced through my mind.

Is it my boss? His boss? His boss? Is that how they do things here – even if you’re at your desk, they just call your cell because that’s the number one way in which you can always be reached?

I cleared my throat, took a deep breath, and swiped to answer it.

“Hello, Christopher Pierznik.”

A pause. Then I heard a robotic voice. “Hello. This is a message intended for…”

A solicitation. I ended the call. Three more times that day – my first day with the phone – calls of this type came through. I was getting calls from all over the map, including the origin of scary wrestlers from the ’80s, Parts Unknown.

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It didn’t take long before I stopped answering. After all, that’s why voicemail is for.

If It’s Important, They’ll Leave a Message should be the motto of the 21st Century.

Eventually, they did. I began getting voicemails and texts that offered a window into the world of the person that had my number before me.

She’s a female that, at least from time to time, enjoys going out.

In addition to the typical voicemails most of us get about consolidating debt or a free cruise, there were others that were very specific, like a recording from Comcast requesting that its equipment be returned immediately or that a certain registration needed to be renewed.

But the most repeated – and troubling – is an automated message from a middle school. To this day, at least once a week (sometimes more), I get a voicemail that begins “This is a message from the attendance office calling to inform you that your student was absent today…”

A truant child; a school with the wrong phone number; a mother never knowing. That’s an unfortunate combination.

It’s a weird feeling, this microscope into another person’s life. I learn what her friends are planning to do that night and I know that she skipped a party recently and didn’t tell anyone she wasn’t going. I know that her Comcast is no longer hooked up and that her son routinely skips school.

At first it was funny to me. Then it was sad. Now it’s just awkward.

Recently, I started blocking numbers so the texts have ceased as have many of the calls. Yet I haven’t been able to bring myself to block the school’s number. I know that I should probably inform them that they have the wrong number, but is that really my place? It’s not like I have a forwarding number and if she hasn’t informed the school of her new number, maybe it was on purpose. That’s a weak excuse, I know. I keep hoping that something will change and I’ll no longer get that voicemail, but as the school year progresses, the pattern continues.

If it happens again, I’ll call the school and tell them. And then I’ll block the number.

Because having this kind of voyeuristic access to someone else’s life isn’t empowering or even all that interesting.

It’s just creepy.


Christopher Pierznik’s eight books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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