Callin' Oates: The Hotline You Don't Need (But Might Call Anyway)

Play associated audio

Is it pure whimsy that makes something like "Callin' Oates" appealing?

If you pick up your phone and call 719-26-OATES — at least as of this writing — you'll get a computerized woman's voice telling you what numbers to press to hear one of four Hall & Oates songs.

The question, of course, is ... why?

In the age of Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, why would you pick up your phone to listen to a tinny rendition of "Private Eyes," like you're on hold with customer service? It's hard to imagine why this would be an appealing way to listen to anything, unless you were trapped at the bottom of a well. And you had access to a phone. And despite being trapped at the bottom of a well, your biggest priority was listening to "Private Eyes." Let's agree that valuing this hotline for its sheer utility requires a fairly elaborate scenario to be devised.

So obviously, it's not the music. It's the idea. It's the idea that if you pick up your phone and dial a number, a robot lady plays Hall & Oates music on command. People like making things happen and the weirder, the better. It's a Jack-In-The-Box for adults (and semi-adults). You press the button and something happens that you don't need to happen at all. A recent Wired article about a game called Cow Clicker might be instructive: the makers of that game managed to make a success out of what was originally meant to be a satire of social media trifles — it involved clicking on a cow for the pure sake of clicking on a cow.

As the hotline's developer told the Atlantic Wire, Callin' Oates started as a demonstration project for his communications job at Twilio, a company that ... basically makes applications that do things like this, although presumably, it can make ones that are somewhat more utilitarian. The guy created it, he got it retweeted by a New York Times tech columnist, and there you go. Presumably, Callin' Oates doesn't have an extraordinarily long shelf life (though it does have its own Twitter account), since there's only so much time you can spend on the phone listening to "Rich Girl."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Star Wars' Editors Defy Hollywood Conventions

In a film industry often dominated by men, there's at least one exception: Many editors are women. Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey speak about their work on the new Star Wars.
NPR

Florida Says Its Fruits, Vegetables Are Safe From Invasive Fruit Fly

Since September, Florida has been fighting an infestation of the Oriental fruit fly, an invasive pest that threatened more than 400 crops. The state declared the insect eradicated as of Saturday.
NPR

The Senate Battle That Looms For Scalia's Replacement

NPR's Domenico Montanaro discusses the upcoming battle on Capitol Hill on replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
NPR

Colonialism Comment Puts Facebook Under Scrutiny

A Facebook board member lambasted a decision by regulators in India, the social network's second-largest market. He thereby sparked new scrutiny of Facebook's intentions in that country.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.