what’s the purpose of answering machines?


I was on my couch watching TV when that thought came across my mind, and no one ever explained it to me

In: Technology

It’s pretty much the same as voicemail now. An answering machine is pretty much a landline voicemail back in the days.

Because in the old days before cell phones, the phone company didn’t record messages for you. Either you were there to pick up the call, or the call didn’t get answered.

It was also before any kind of caller id, and phones weren’t capable of displaying any numbers or remembering that there had been a call, so if someone called you, and you weren’t there, you didn’t even know it.

Indeed, there was even a time when answering machines were absolutely illegal: the phone company owned the lines to your house, and strictly controlled what you could attach. They had a few models of phones that you could rent, and that was it. There was no third-party market for phones at all.

Before modern tech like cellphones, texts, emails, and DMs, you only had landline phone calls, faxes, and physical mail. If you called someone, there wasn’t voicemail for the call to be transferred to. The phone was in a house or office and couldn’t be moved. If nobody answered, then there was no way of leaving a message for later nor a way for someone to know that a call was made let alone missed. Answering machines were created to automatically answer a call after a defined number of rings with a pre-recorded message in the event you couldn’t answer the phone, then it would record the message left onto a physical cassette tape. Phone companies later started offering “features” like caller ID and voicemail for additional fees to let you know who was calling and to do the function of an answering machine for you. These features are assumed to be included with phone service nowadays, but years ago they weren’t even an option. Without knowing who was calling, many families would always answer the phone more formally using a greeting like “Hello, <family> residence. <name> speaking”. Different tech; different usages.