Telephone answering machines are designed to make your life easier. They answer your phone for you after a certain number of rings, and play a recorded message1. Some answering machines come with a pre-recorded message, although many people prefer to record their own message even if a pre-recorded one is present. These recorded messages have a few universal features. One is that no matter who is recording the message, they will always be shocked at how it sounds2. Another is that even people who have written out a script will litter the message with ums and errs, or may even miss out some of their carefully scripted words, leading to a completely unintelligible message.
Another feature of answering machines is their talent for screening the messages left for you, enabling all-important information to become obscured 'because of the vagaries of tape' (even digital answering machines will provide you with this excuse). For example, you come home to three messages, two which are 'fashgfjrj-click', and probably from a telesales person, another which is Mr Whfile from Ahgract Pingplibs with a message to tell Miss Eleblob that her six ridged FlibbleFlavs are ready.
More modern answering machines enable you to hear your messages by accessing them from any other telephone. This seems like a good idea at first, but it is, unfortunately, hopelessly addictive, and generally frustrating. You phone your home phone number, and then when the answering machine answers, you dial in a code, at which point an American female informs you 'Common mailbox - no messages. Press star for help'. Soon you find yourself checking for messages, not only during your lunch break at work, but every hour you are out of the house, calling from your mobile 'just in case someone needs me'.
An improvement in this service is clear. Instead of your machine just informing you of a lack of messages, it could also let you know what else is going on: 'Common mailbox - no messages. Postman has been - two parcels, four bills, and a postcard from your friend in Bermuda. Electricity man attempted to call - nobody to answer, as a result you will receive a wildly inaccurate bill in the fullness of time.'