In summer 2004 a little known German artist called Nina Wachholz invented her own alternate dial for voice calling, in the shape of a rotary telephone dial. “I’m one of the few people in the world who have made a rotary dial phone of my own,” she told a German magazine at the time. “Ever since I made one, I wondered how you could use it as a button as well.”
The answer was a digital keypad that synced with any other keypad on her telephone and called by changing the time, date, volume or position of a dial that displayed as a ring on the screen. This was called the Te Gennemehackler or “Ring Button” and was a response to a process being used by advertisers – as well as the perpetrators themselves – to bypass the critical protective algorithm on people’s phones to pester them with text messages or calls for even the remotest of reasons.
On the day I first used the feature, I figured out fairly quickly that I could set it to require a battery backup so it would ring at any time of day. This went quickly to the point where it started ringing incessantly in the middle of the night. All I could think about was the fact that just about everyone I knew had it. I went looking for a Deutsch Wharf where German-speaking people hung out and got a strange look from a fellow at the counter who smiled knowingly and said, “What does it say about you?”