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Don’t Leave Me Hanging on the Telephone…..

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

17 responses »

  1. Ann,

    The quantum step was the cell phone, and one not all of us are willing to take. I get to carry one for work sometimes, and it is a temptation to go over to the “dark-side” occasionally. So far so good.

    I just remember that they used to carry the paper mail and put it on a ship, which sailed leisurly around the world before your letter was delivered to you. Then you got to think about what you wanted to say befor you put pen to paper and started the cycle over again. Were we less civilized?

    Reply
    • I am, unfortunately, tethered to the cell phone due a combination of needy clients, parents with medical issues and a peripatetic kid. I guess it’s worth it to know that no one will be left in the lurch, but still…..

      I have always been enthralled by “real” mail, particularly in the days when it took a long, long time to get it (and to compose it). I collect books of letters, because they are so beautifully written and take such care to express themselves. I would say that any tradition involving deliberate thought and imagination trumps the careless and thoughtless.

      Reply
  2. I really really wish I could find a way to make this be in huge font and really bold –

    AMEN!!!

    Reply
  3. My phone is for MY convenience. Always has been, always will be.

    Reply
  4. Ann,

    Just wait till Dale gets home and reads this. Until I met him, I was like the other two family members who answered every call. Dale was the complete opposite–maybe even more extreme than you. At first, we didn’t have an answering machine and Dale would turn off the ringer for days on end. Friends would call me at work and wonder if we were still alive. Then the answering machine came (before the silent digital kind) and D would get stressed because we could hear it activate in the other room (although the ringer, still off). Now we’ve come full circle, silent ans machine, ringer off, cell phone (finally-the last ppl on the West Coast to get one-not two-so we’d have phone in Mex) no need to answer the phone cuz we can’t hear it. We recently inherited a old style rotary dial phone, antique looking which suits our living room, but, we can’t silence the ringer. Back to the drawing board.

    Reply
    • I knew I liked Dale. 🙂 It’s kind of a neurotic thing, I know, but I have had periods of time when, for whatever reason, i just didn’t want to be sidetracked by anyone else’s…anything. That seems to be heretical. If I did not have a sick mother and a kid, I would def go silently machine and ringer off. I used to do that in my office when I needed to think. Then, when you are READY to talk, you can listen to messages and return calls.

      Wouldn’t people rather talk to me when I really want to talk to them instead of when I am tapping my foot and wishing they would hang up?

      Reply
  5. Yes. Totally agree. Our connected lifestyle is sometimes just a hassle. I still feel a sense of urgncy to answer the phone. Just a programmed response.

    Reply
    • Well, I think it used to BE more urgent – when I was growing up one didn’t call before 9:00AM, after 9:00PM or during what might generally be considered “dinner time.” I remember being taught that when you called someone, you always said “is this a good time to talk?” unless it was your best friend, or you were on fire. We’re now kind of fair game, all the time….

      Reply
  6. Todd and I have this disagreement all the time. I use the EXACT same logic (emphasize logic) as you, WHY have caller ID if you will answer every call anyway? He wants to answer even if he knows it’s a telemarketer and just hang up on them. I say that’s his prerogative, but I will not talk to them if they ask for me. It’s not always the right time. The advantage of technology is they can leave a message saying exactly why they are calling! I’m with YOU Ann. (I also hide when certain people knock on my door so I hope you aren’t just being funny with that one!)

    Reply
    • You may tell Todd that the majority is against him. (That would be us). I also like to hear a message first so that I can gather my thoughts if I need to. Yes, I do really hide. Often.

      Reply
  7. I agree with your logical approach and have recently updated the caller ID to accomodate my over 50 vision! The hardest thing has been training the boys not to answer any call for
    someone we know in the hope that it may be “for them”. Another great blog! Bob commented the other night that he has read 20$ books that are not as well done as a single one of your blogs!

    Reply
    • I remember the days when I hoped the phone would be for me…and it was even more suspenseful because we did NOT have Caller ID, and it could be for us right up until…it wasn’t.

      Please tell Bob I said thank you. That’s a lovely compliment, and I need the encouragement. 🙂

      Reply
  8. I really enjoyed reading this article, keep on creating such interesting articles!

    Reply
  9. Great post – As an antique phone enthusiast this is interesting.I’m happy:glad I found this

    Reply

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