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According to a study done by The Institute To Get Press Coverage By Conducting Studies, men's preferred phone-on-hold music is classical.

Excuse me? Have you ever seen a man remain on hold long enough to hear more than three notes of anything? How many men do you know who can tell the difference between Beethoven and Bach? (Other than Charles Grodin fans.) And how can we be sure those fellows weren't confusing classical music with Classic Coke?

Women don't share men's highbrow tastes according to the study (which was really done by an associate professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati and the Sigma Research Management Group). At least not when they're enduring torture by voice mail. For women, a light jazz/music-on-hold victimization mix is more harmonious.

I'm sorry, but there's something dissonant about those research results. The subjects must have been subjected to a watered down version of Handel's Water Music. Or idiot-proof renderings of the old masters: Meandering with Mozart, Besieged By Brahms, Violated by Vivaldi. Surely they weren't listening to The Real Thing.

The theory behind music-on-hold is that time will pass more quickly if your phone Neverneverland sojourn is accompanied by music you didn't choose to hear, piped through a speaker barely adequate to transmit speech.

But if you're anything like me, you try to pack 72 hours worth of activity into 24. And you rarely use the phone without doing at least two other tasks. Tasks you'd prefer to do in silence. This is especially true when you're hunting for something most firms have never heard of -- HELP.

So you pay bills while you wait. Or catch up on e-mail. Or select a weapon to use on the #%$%# company that's wasting your time and abusing your eardrums.

Oddly enough, phones weren't used for the music-on-hold study. Nor were the 71 subjects multi-tasking while trapped on hold. They weren't even trying to extract critical information from an under-staffed company while watching a just-out-of-the-box, over-priced appliance self-destruct.

Instead, they were exposed to "just pretend" stress. They listened to music transmitted through headsets. They were told to imagine calling customer service and being placed on hold. And they were asked to estimate the time they were on make-believe hold.

Their estimates varied by music type and gender, leading to the musical taste conclusions I mentioned earlier. But despite the absence of real life emergencies -- exploding toasters, suds-spewing dish washers, recalcitrant computers -- they tended to overestimate on hold time, no matter which type of music was played.

So the researchers decided that music-on-hold is evil and should be banned immediately, and that there should be prison sentences for company executives who use it, and that ... Hey, I can play "just pretend" too.

It took me two minutes to read about this study. But it felt like fifteen.

© 1999 Madeleine Begun Kane. All Rights Reserved.
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