I am not a fan of the “connected” lifestyle. The notion that I am reachable at every waking moment does not make me feel at one with the universe; it makes me frantic. In the same way that I feel perfectly justified in lying on the living room floor until the girl selling magazines gets off my porch, I feel that I am permitted to choose whether or not to answer the landline or cell phone. The fact that someone has chosen a certain moment to speak to me creates no obligation on my end; it merely presents me with a choice.
Many people, including the ones that I live with, pick up the phone whenever it rings unless it is clear from the caller identification feature that a minute of our time is being sought by TruGreen, Chemlawn or “Unknown.” Even as I plead “I don’t want to talk to anybody right n-” they are answering, bringing me the receiver and making gestures of “too-late” helplessness. Whether or not I am ready to discuss the poor choices of City officials, the fall-out from a heated meeting or how to thicken flaccid gravy, I am “on.” Both of the men in my family believe that if someone calls, one should make oneself available, and that my policy of taking calls only when I actually want to talk is rude and offensive.
I argue that there is no reason to have Caller ID and an answering machine if one is obligated to respond any time someone chooses to interrupt. Yes, I am a “screener,” and completely unapologetic. There are people who inhabit the very outer orbits of my consciousness, and who sometimes decide, when they are very bored, or drunk, or nostalgic, to call me and talk for two hours about the minutiae of their lives. These are not people who need my help or even care about me very much. There are also people who are important to me, but who have issues that require frequent, extensive, soul-searching, agonizing, discussion and resist any possible resolution. I will always return their calls, but sometimes I need a break so that I can return, fresh, to the fray.
It is sometimes difficult to communicate the necessity of supervising homework, or the desire simply to spend an hour interacting with the “live” people to whom I am tied by love and biology. I would not call these people at their workplaces and expect them to be available for a 90 minute stream-of-consciousness discussion, and I am similarly unavailable during the time that I choose to spend with my family. Since I historically have difficulty saying “this is not a good time to talk,” it is far easier for me to screen the call and return it when I do have time. Wuss? Yes. Sorry? Not at all.
It’s important to note that I do not leave anyone in distress because I want to be alone or with my family. Through the miracle of Caller ID and the digital answering device, I know who is calling, and can usually gauge the level of urgency as the message is recorded. If there is any doubt about the appropriate response, there are almost always clues; I have learned to pick up quickly in response to words such as “emergency,” “fracture,” “hospital,” “disconnection” and “principal.” Messages involving the key words “chat,” “checking in,” “saying hi,” or “next week” can wait until I am done watching “The Office,” or Sam’s latest You Tube video. I will always pick up calls from my parents, Rob’s parents, friends and family experiencing medical crises, expecting babies, or waiting for important news. If I don’t pick up, I call back, and if I don’t call back, trust me, it’s for a damned good reason.
So if you call, and I don’t answer, I may indeed be sitting two feet from the phone reading “Vogue.” If you need me, I will be there. If not, I assure you that we will (eventually) have a much pleasanter chat if you allow me to enjoy my peace and privacy when I need them.