Here’s the cited problem: The phone – and not the sort you find attached to a cord in a museum. The problem is the usage of today’s most important utility, which happens to be your cell phone or smart phone or addiction network, whichever you choose to call it.
The reader’s problem was very specific. “You should do a column on cell phone etiquette on leaving messages. People will call and not leave a message and they expect a call back.”
I feel a little like Ann Landers. Dear Reader with Phone Etiquette Issues…
But nobody calls me “Dear,” so let me offer a little perspective to this problem. We’ll start with the evolution of the phone all the way back to where my research has taken me, which consists of me squeezing my knuckles very tight and trying to remember what a guy once explained to me about phone exchanges.
At some point after people attached Campbell Soup cans together with string and talked across tree houses, we started using phone exchanges. Apparently, people called an operator – normally a sweet lady with her hair up and an ash tray at her side – and asked to speak with a neighbor.
At that point, you, the neighbor and the operator all shared a conversation. I technically wasn’t alive during this period, but that’s what I’ve heard. The only rule for conversations was you didn’t say anything you didn’t want the operator to repeat to the next person who called.
Next, we all got seven digits to our phone numbers, mounted a weapon on the kitchen wall and made sure we bought a cord long enough to stretch to the back yard. (One of life’s worst problems was untangling that cord.) Initially, we either got a person on the other line or a busy signal. There were no rules for making calls back then. Like with exchanges, you either got in touch or you didn’t.
After that, everything spun out of control. We hooked tape players to our phones, recorded ridiculous greetings and sprinted to that recorder every time we got home from school or church, just to see if we missed anything important.
Then came call waiting, which never synced with the old-time answering machines but thankfully worked with the advent of voicemail services provided by our phone carriers.
And eventually, we got to cell phones, which initially made us all happy because we could talk to anyone at any time.
But then came texting, which replaced our desire to talk on the phone. As I’ve written before, I have friends who I’ve called who immediately sent me a text back asking, “What do you want?”
Something else was invented with cell phones – something that never happened with rotaries or even push-button phones attached to a wall. That invention? The “butt dial,” which is very important to solving “Dear Phone Etiquette’s” problem.
You see, our derrieres are not so skilled that they could punch in seven consecutive digits, and even when our dads started carrying portable phones in their back pockets, their cheeks were not nimble enough to “butt dial” anyone.
That changed when we attached cell phones to our hips (the worst stylistic move approved by humans in the past century). All of the sudden, we were unintentionally calling people who listened to us breathe for 3 minutes and 47 seconds. And those poor people would stay on the line, hoping to catch us saying something incriminating.
And that leads us back to “Dear Etiquette’s” dilemma.
There are three kinds of calls we get today: Nope, No and Know (write this stuff down, people).
The “Nope” calls are the three calls I’ve received just this morning from Battle Creek, Mich., Phoenix and Flowery Branch, Ga. Those are people who want to sell me something, and any time they call, my reply is Nope. I do not answer, I will not talk to them and I wish they would all stand in a shower and hold their plugged-in phone charges. (By the way, did you know 12 percent of all smartphone owners use their phones in the shower? It’s a verified statistic published by DailyInfographics.com.)
Then you have the “No” answer. These are the numbers and names that you’ve seen before. Heck, some of them may be saved in your contact list. But these are people you have no reason to speak with, and there’s a better-than-50-percent chance that they’ve “butt dialed” you. When they call, you do not answer. If they leave a message, it usually starts with, “Hey, I know you weren’t expecting me to call, but had something I wanted to ask you.”
If that happens, you do call them back, but only after an hour because you don’t want them to know (even though they do) that you were screening their call.
And then there’s the “Know” category. These are the people who are your friends or colleagues. If they call and you don’t answer, you are required to call them back. These are the people who may know the location of your children. They may need to know what time you want to play golf on Saturday. They know that the boss is looking for you and you need to call them back.
With people in the “Know” category, they have the option of leaving you a message. You are not required to listen to the message, but you probably will, right after you call that person back.
Or, you can just send them a text and ask, “What do you want?”
Dear Etiquette, I hope this helps. If it doesn’t, leave me a message.