August 2, 2008

Why put such a negative spin on the desire to leave a message instead of reaching somebody when you call on the phone?

There's a device — Slydial – that takes you straight to voicemail:
... lets callers ... avoid an unwanted conversation — or unwanted intimacy...

.... We are constantly just missing one another — on purpose.

... turning some people into digital-era solipsists more interested in broadcasting information than in real time give-and-take.

... “You pretend to be communicating, when you’re actually stifling communication" ....

[Some guy] said he had ... used it to call in sick to work — without facing follow-up questions from his boss....

He acknowledges that the technology encourages a perhaps not-so-valiant character trait.

“It does make you more cowardly,” he said.
Wow. What about all the positive reasons for not wanting to make someone's phone ring? They might be sleeping, with someone, or concentrating on work. I often hesitate to make phone calls, not for selfish reasons, but out of consideration for others. You have no idea what they are doing. In fact, why did it ever become acceptable to cause a bell to ring that required somebody to drop what they are doing and talk to somebody who unilaterally decided it was time to talk? It had to have been an adjustment to phone technology as it was. If it is no longer necessary to behave that way, why is it still thought to be polite? At the very least, calling specifically to leave a voice message should be regarded as fine etiquette. Stigmatizing it as solipsistic and cowardly is ridiculous.

30 comments:

1jpb said...

Sometimes talking live can be problematic, especially live on the radio when you think the mic isn't hot.

BUSH 41: Well, yeah. I'm kind of on the sidelines, but I can't do golf and all that stuff anymore. But life is good. It's wonderful, and it's great having the family up here in Maine, and all is well. Do you see our man Ailes at all?

RUSH: Oh, yeah. I saw Roger at Tony Snow's funeral.

BUSH 41: Oh, did you?

RUSH: And a couple of times earlier this summer.

BUSH 41: Are we on the radio, are we?

RUSH: (laughing)

BUSH 41: I didn't know that. I'll clean up my act here. I'm glad they told me.

RUSH: Yeah, we're on the radio.

blake said...

I don't get the point of that transcript, 1jpb.

But I do think this is awesome. This should be an option for everyone: Leave a message rather than call when it's not urgent.

Ann Althouse said...

Rush has received calls all week from various famous people congratulating him for his 20 years on the air anniversary. It was not unexpected for Bush to call. It was nice and it was deserved.

The only thing awry is the expression "our man Ailes." What's with that?!

blake said...

We use "our man" all the time to mean a common acquaintance, and sometimes with a positive connotation, and others with neutral or negative connotation.

Revenant said...

The only thing awry is the expression "our man Ailes." What's with that?!

"Our man" can refer either to a member of your team or to a friend. Ailes is a friend of both Bush and Limbaugh, was Bush's "Karl Rove" during the 1988 campaign, and remains a Republican Party supporter today. So either use of the term makes sense.

peterdrum99 said...

Years ago I started FAXing whenever possible. Gives the recipient the option of when to deal with my issue. AVO, too.

Meade said...

When Alexis Gorman, 26, wanted to tell a man she had been dating that the courtship was over, she felt sending a Dear John text message was too impersonal. But she worried that if she called the man, she would face an awkward conversation or a confrontation.

Sloppy. If she were smart and thorough, she'd have her lawyer send the guy a cease and desist letter, file for a restraining order and THEN leave him a cowardly voicemail.

Drew W said...

I think that it was in a "Seinfeld" episode that I first saw reference to the idea of calling someone and then being disappointed to get them in person and not their machine.

Like "re-gifting" and "double-dipping," the "Seinfeld" writers seemed to have put their finger on another cultural quirk. At least I hope it was a "Seinfeld" episode. (Any help from the obsessives?)

Pastafarian said...

I hate to leave a comment unrelated to the topic, but the Althouse blog has started to cause Explorer to crash on my machine. I've just downloaded Firefox to view it.

Is it just me?

If so, sorry about the thread interruption.

Pastafarian said...

Sorry, I just found your earlier post about the problem. Please disregard my last comment -- I'll just use Firefox from now on.

rhhardin said...

I turned the ringer off in 1992. Phones are for calling out.

If somebody seriously needs to reach you, there are always other ways.

joyce said...

I agree with Althouse. I'd much rather leave a message when calling the list to relay stuff to our dear folks at church that do not have email. If I have ten calls to make, or if relaying information to my husband's seven brothers and sisters, I'd much rather leave a message and if they want more information, they can call or email back.

NoBorg said...

I totally agree that the most important motivation to use this is courtesy; if you have an issue that is not urgent then leaving a VM is the nicer thing to do.

I use e-mail that way at work, but that doesn't always work with "civilians" because you never know how often they check their personal email.

Chip Ahoy said...

I can imagine an instance where Slydial would be useful. A few year ago I called my friends to wish them a merry Christmas and kept getting recorders. That caused me to contrive a false scripted message to leave on everybody's message center. I pretended to be Queen Elizabeth calling all her loyal subjects, "right the whole world 'round," to wish them "each and every one, one at a time, individually, democratically, *giggles* a veddy meddy Christmas." Until she's interrupted by another voice suggesting the American colonists aren't precisely loyal subjects, "Oh. Oh my. Well, that's different! Well then, go on and have yourselves a veddy meddy Christmas anyway. Goodbye." *click* It didn't sound at all like Queen Elizabeth, not the thin reedy voice she actually has but rather the voice everyone assumes to imitate Julia Child, a different high-pitched reedy voice. I thought it was hilarious. I had my script and my act down pat and, going through the address book, proceeded leaving messages on machine after machine, then at about the tenth call someone actually picked up. I don't know what made me think that just because the first eight were out that meant everybody would be out. Already set in QE mode, with a prepared script ready to launch, I was unable to smoothly recover for a real time conversation. It felt weird and unnatual wishing a merry Christmas to a real person when I had my reedy voice ready and message scripted, I had to think up a real Christmas message on the spot, plus I didn't get to punk that person.

My old friends suspected it was me. New friends had no idea who called them. A couple extranationals were confused or annoyed and just hung up. But they were all talking about it at the moment I arrived at a party a week later. By then I had forgotten about it and was surprised at the reaction it caused. One guy was convinced it was either his mother or his sister, who were both given to such pranks. He said he called them to ask if it was them doing the voice prank. A few didn't believe I could pitch my voice like that or was the type to contrive a prank. The downside was, they took up calling me Queen Elizabeth after that, based on that one little thing, and I just had to accept it. My next false-voice telephone prank I'll consider Slydial to assure a message and to avoid the possibility of uncomfortable real-life conversation shift while in punkster mode.

Linus said...

I often have the opposite problem; people will call me, I don't answer (because I'm in a meeting, or I'm away from the phone or I just flat don't want to talk to them right then), but they don't leave a message. Then, when I don't call them back, and they do get a hold of me later, they are upset that I didn't call them back. I figure, if it were actually important, they'd leave a message.

why did it ever become acceptable to cause a bell to ring that required somebody to drop what they are doing and talk to somebody who unilaterally decided it was time to talk?

I agree completely. The related phenomenon that blows my mind is when you are talking to someone live and in person, and their phone rings, and they consider it right and proper to abruptly cut off conversation and ignore you in favor of the interruptor. I'm annoyed, but I also feel a little sad for them. Slaves to the bell, like Pavlov's dog.

Chip Ahoy said...

+++ Agree with Linus ^^^ 100 %.

John Lynch said...

I fail to answer my phone all the time. I hate any technology that gives me responsibility I don't want to have. All these beeping devices demanding attention will take over our lives if we let them.

So, if I don't feel like it, I don't answer the phone. I turn it off when I take a map. People can leave a voice mail. Some people may have jobs that require them to take a call at any time, but it seems to me that we got by just fine when that wasn't true.

Also, I don't have instant messaging or anything that let's other people know I am online. They can email me.

I believe in controlling technology, not the other way around.

PatCA said...

File this story under the NYT's "anything the American public likes is evil" narrative, similar to their "things that you think make your life better are giving you cancer" narrative.

Kev said...

I often have the opposite problem; people will call me, I don't answer (because I'm in a meeting, or I'm away from the phone or I just flat don't want to talk to them right then), but they don't leave a message. Then, when I don't call them back, and they do get a hold of me later, they are upset that I didn't call them back. I figure, if it were actually important, they'd leave a message.

I totally agree, Linus. I'm teaching for most of the day, so I'm rarely able to answer my phone, and I don't pick up for unfamiliar numbers even when I am available. I figure that if someone doesn't have time to leave me a message, I don't have time to call them back. Caller ID is not an answering machine!

I had a weekend job in retail when Caller ID first became popular, and the following scenario annoyed me to no end: I would call people to tell them their order was in, get no answer, and then get a return call a few hours later from someone basically saying "You called me earlier. What do you want?" Then I'd have to establish who the person was and go back and look to see which order had come in. It just seemed to promote a kind of rudeness that didn't occur before Caller ID came around.

Kev said...

I should note that, despite what I said above, I'm not against Caller ID itself, just that particular use of it. As a matter of fact, I'm about to ditch my land line because I can't get Caller ID without paying extra for it, and I've gotten to where I won't pick up the phone if I don't know who's calling. That means that the land line serves as pretty much an overpriced answering service at the moment.

Also, I don't have instant messaging or anything that let's other people know I am online. They can email me.

But John, email is so 1990's. ;-)

I keep my IM running whenever I'm online, but I often "cloak" behind an away message if I'm busy. That's my way of controlling the technology.

raf said...

"They might be sleeping, with someone, or concentrating on work.

Unnecessary commas.

Christy said...

Who uses voice mail these days anyway? If it's urgent we IM or if it's routine we email.

And, over the course of time, we begin to leave people who never check email out of our lives. It cascades. We think they are informed, they think they are being left out.

John Lynch said...

Kev, I'm old. I'm so 1990s myself.

Fried Lice said...

I agree with you Ann. Why should someone have the unilateral power to make me drop whatever I am doing and run to pick up a phone? Just be thankful you don't live here in China. Chinese people are psychos when it comes to phones. They expect your mobile to be on 24 hours per day and will attack dial (I regularly have people call me ten times just while I am showering and getting dressed.) if you don't answer. Just send me a text message or an email. Frankly, I find most phone conversations boring and/or unnecessary. I also don't like paying the bill. I have solved this problem by keeping my phone in silent mode at all times and generally refraining from calling others. People don't like it, but I don't care.

amba said...

So true! Like the thing about only hearing the annoying air conditioner just after it cuts off, we are only aware now that we finally have alternatives of how intrusive a phone call can be. So many of us feel obligated to answer it, and then if we cut it short or are brusque or preoccupied, the person on the other end feels hurt and thinks we were rude. In fact, whenever you call someone you are making an unwarranted assumption that they have nothing more urgent to do than talk to you.

When somebody wakes me up (I nap at weird times) and I tell them so, they always say "Oh, I'm sorry," and I always say, "How could you have known?" But the apology suggests a subliminal awareness that tha call is presumptuous and intrusive.

LoafingOaf said...

People have few worries about getting anything other than my voice mail when they call my cell. I have it on silent mode 99% of the time, and when I feel like returning calls I go over the missed calls list and voice mails. I've never gotten used to carrying around a phone which allows people to contact me at any time. And of course I hate the sound of the land line phone ringing at home, so that's always off. I don't like phones! Fax machines, text messages, emails, old fashioned letters, are better.

I often get some voice mails that are like, "You never answer your damn phone!!" Hey, it's cool with me if you don't answer yours when I call you back.

Meade said...

Don't call us, we'll (not) call you.

reader_iam said...

I work odd (but a lot of) hours. I'm the person who's willing to do work for you at odd times. I'll create, implement and update stuff on holidays, weekends, and late at night, for example, even though and when it's disruptive to my own life. It makes me extremely valuable to certain clients in certain ways, because despite all the incessant rhetoric to the contrary, relatively few people are competent, committed, independent, self-motived and flexible enough (not to mention technologically and familially equipped) to reliably work that way, without fuss.

If someone can't be bothered to take a phone call from me because it's more efficient for what I'm doing and because, you know, I need to actually DISCUSS something (or pin down details which are being overlooked or DUCKED) back and forth, even briefly, then ***fuck them***.

No one style fits all, or even all situations. Give to get. You want me to fit your style? Then suck it up and fit into mine every once in a while. Or go find someone else, which you are, of course, perfectly free to do.

I recently had to confront someone on this issue, by the way.

They weren't able to find someone else to do what they wanted, when they wanted. Surprise, surprise!

They came back. I got my way, and a raise in my fee.

(I do, by the way, use electronic communication in most cases. But it's not ALWAYS the best way, regardless of people's preferences.

Also, I often find IM'ing, however, to be more intrusive then phone calls. It's too easy, and people are often too indiscriminate, and they can do it with less risk of experiencing annoyance etc., in terms of a brusque tone on the phone, etc. They also seem to be oblivious to the fact that one might have IM's coming from multiple sources at once. So I disagree with the "common" wisdom with regard to IM's being more efficient, less intrusive--speaking for myself, only.)

reader_iam said...

I think Slydial is just fine, by the way. It's a great way to impart information when that's all that's needed.

So long as it's not used as a technique to "dictate" and "duck" as opposed discuss and negotiate, which is sometimes what's needed, whether the caller likes it or not ... .

Original Mike said...

The presumptuousness with which people use the phone amazes me. I don't have to pick up the damn phone if I don't want to and I don't give a **** if you don't like it!!! (Ann, you've found my biggest pet peeve).

I just recently got a cell phone for calling out. If I'm not on a trip, it sits at home in a drawer. The looks I get from people when, having asked for my cell phone number, I tell them I don't have one, are precious. You'd think I'd grown two noses.

I often hesitate to make phone calls, not for selfish reasons, but out of consideration for others.

Bless you, Ann. You're a saint.