Wednesday, March 4, 2009


We used to have a friend who used her ten year old daughter as her personal assistant. If you called to speak to the mother, the child would field the call. You could hear the mother in the background asking who's on the phone. The child would tell her and then the mother would say, "Tell her I'll call back in a little while." The child would dutifully repeat what the caller had just heard and hang up.

With all of the back and forth, seems like it would have been easier for the mother to take the phone and just say, "I'm in the middle of something, would love to talk to you, can I call you back?" It's not like the mother was in the backyard weeding. They were in the same cramped New York City apartment, a couple of feet apart.

Is this laziness or another screening technique? Had the mother decided that the call wasn't important enough for her to stop doing nothing?

"My mom can't talk right now, we're in the middle of dinner, can she call you back?", a friend's daughter asked Yvonne who was slightly miffed. Being shooed off the phone by a teenager didn't sit well with her. She felt that she should have been announced to the mother and the mother should've been the one to explain that they were in the middle of dinner and she'll call back. "What I really don't get," Yvonne said, "Why would you answer the phone if you know you can't talk?"

Her friend called back and profusely apologized. She explained that she doesn't allow phone conversations or texting during dinner. Her daughter had picked up the one phone without caller ID and didn't want to miss speaking to her father who was away on business. This is completely understandable and we like that she's teaching her children the importance of having dinner together as a family free of technology.

The phone is a powerful tool, it can be an ego booster or ego buster. It gives power to power seekers, 'I don't take calls that are private or restricted.' The phone can feed paranoia, 'Hello, are you there? Are you there? Pick up, pick up.' Uhmm, maybe the person you're calling has voicemail and not an answer machine wherein they could hear you. It breeds snobs, 'I have to get this other call.' This is always fun, you're in the middle of a conversation and your good friend gets a call from someone more important than you and apparently they can't be called back later because they're so special.

There is value in Caller ID for people who are being stalked or preyed upon by sleazy mortgage brokers and annoying telemarketers. It can also let you know if it's a call that should be answered, especially in the case of an emergency, it could be someone in need. But some ardent fans of Caller ID don't pick up calls from unrecognizable numbers or names. What's a poor caller to do?

We are convinced that call waiting was created by someone who didn't have many friends and was afraid to miss the one call from the one friend. They also didn't understand the value of spending quality time on the phone with someone you care about.

Several years ago, there was an advertising campaign for the telephone company. The tag was, 'Reach Out And Touch Someone'. It was before all the bells and whistles that make it so hard to reach out and touch someone with a phone call in today's world.

Is that your phone we hear ringing? Pick up, please.

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