Conquering the Fear of the “Unknown” (Caller)

If you’re like me, answering the phone is comparable to going to the dentist after Halloween. Staring at the words on the phone provides a little assistance, but it doesn’t do enough to calm the anxiety of the mysterious message on the other end of the call.

“Scam Likely” is the easiest by far, ignore it, block it and never show it to me again, send them to voicemail, force the caller to solve endless riddles. I don’t care, make it painful for the caller. The ideas are endless and most of the apps provided by carriers focus on their attention on these types of calls.

But what about the “Unknown”? What about “Mom” or “Progressive Insurance”? My anxiety about answering a phone call has a little to do with who the caller is, but more the what the message is and the how my reaction to the call will be perceived by the caller. Don’t get me wrong, the work that companies are doing to register the phone numbers to whos (business, brands, or people) is a very important part of overall ecosystem. Text messaging has gone even further here in the United States by requiring brands and businesses to claim the intent before messages are even sent courtesy of 10DLC, although that information still hasn’t made it to my phone.

But what does one do when they receive that phone call from “Unknown”?

For much of my adult life, I have been able to just ignore those calls. My response was if it was important enough, they would leave a message and I can call them back.

But then 2022 happened to me. In April, I was hit by a car on my bike and ended up in the hospital on the same day I was told my job would be moving to Europe. I woke up the following morning with 40 stitches inside my mouth, 2 missing teeth, and a broken right hand leaving it hard to communicate vocally or using my hand to send messages. I was also stuck in bed with a lot of time to think. While much of it was about what I wanted to do next or when I could finally eat something, my thoughts often crept to my relationship with my phone.

It started with family, friends, and colleagues checking in on my. Soon, doctors, dentists and pharmacies began flooding me with “This is a reminder that your surgery is scheduled for…” and “Your prescription is ready…” robo-calls. It was my mom calling to check on me, my wife checking in to see if I took medicine for the pain, the co-workers seeing if things are getting better. Every text message or phone call I made physically hurt. I mean hurt. Saying any word with a “D” in it stretched the mouth stiches and stung. Any word typed with a “W” sent a piercing pain through my hand. Ignoring my phone just worked.

Until it didn’t. As I started to re-enter the world, the scope of the “Unknown” calls changed. I began the search for a new job which meant new recruiters calling from new numbers. The robo-calls from doctors and dentists changed to actual people calling to check on progress and update me on next steps. My insurance companies went from ignore to answer. In a couple weeks, I no longer could afford to ignore calls, I was forced into the “Unknown”. That meant of course I had to pickup my fair share of “This is the IRS calling…” and “Your car warranty…” messages. I even got lucky enough to have this happen to me during political season so I got to hear my fair share of “Vote for…” messages as an added bonus. Needless to say, my relationship with my phone had changed drastically.

In August, I applied for a position with RealNetworks and soon discovered their KONTXT Caller Screening App product. At first it seemed like a visual voicemail, similar to what I got from Google Voice. But I soon discovered its superpower, the ability of its AI and NLP (Natural Language Processing) to let me know what the “Unknown” or “Mom” was calling about. I could now receive a call from a recruiter and pick up the call as soon as I realized who it was, or check if the “Dentist Office” phone number calling me was the robot letting me know my next appointment or the actual dentist calling to check on my pain. For the first time since I answered my first phone call as a kid, I had the ability to relieve that anxiety of the “Unknown”.

Fast forward a few months, and I am finding myself answering a far greater number of calls, not because I have to, but because I want to. That is a lot of freedom. I’ve discovered that not all robo-calls are bad, I appreciated not having to say a single word to know that my surgery time was still good. And likewise, I’ve discovered that not all human calls are good for me. I’ve learned that the who plus the what helps reduce my anxiety tremendously, and I no longer fear the “Unknown”. As for “Mom”, well, we still have a long roadmap of features to help with that one!

If you’re reading this post, then you are lucky enough to be able to try the app out yourself without needing to have the whole hit-by-a-car experience. We’ll be expanding the app to new places and providing more features to help you take back control of your phone, so if you have ideas or feedback we would be happy to hear it!