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A couple of years ago I was invited to lecture in the US. To arrange for a work visa, I rang the US embassy in London. Thus began my first relationship with voice-mail.

Within a couple of rings I was whisked into the embassy’s “automated attendant and information system.” Somewhat bossily, a female voice told me to “listen carefully to the following options.” Before I knew it, I was “dialoguing” with an automated receptionist. I was eventually told to ring another number, and soon I was “dialoguing” with yet another automated receptionist.

This time, after the usual introductions and instructions,…

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