Martha Randolph Carr Martha Randolph Carr, 11/3/2008 [Archive]

Phone Etiquette

Phone Etiquette

By Martha Randolph Carr

Phone rules for polite society circa 1982 were brief and to the point. If an actual human being was right in front of you or if the family was having dinner, you didn't answer the phone. A longer list wasn't really necessary.

Rules for how to leave a message were also much more basic. Ask whoever answered if they had a pencil or pen and then start speaking slowly. Spell any names and repeat the phone number. That was it.

It was impossible to record a message or tell who was calling before the phone was answered so outright avoidance of each other wasn't really an issue. We had to communicate more directly, which also made us better at editing ourselves. It's harder to fling insults when the intended victim is listening in real time and can counter with opinions of their own.

But then, in 1983 AT&T was deemed a monopoly and everything changed. The company was broken into a lot of little baby Bells and competition finally entered the world of communication.

There's nothing like the possibility of market share to spur on new technology and soon enough wireless devices were created. The early ones were shaped like a brick and weighed about the same amount. It didn't take long though before we arrived at ear pieces and loud conversations in grocery store aisles.

Rules surrounding phone usage became necessary wherever people congregated like restaurants or trains to avoid having to listen to one-sided shouting matches or half of a good story.

These days, before the start of any performance or sermon the crowd is now routinely asked to turn off their phones and everyone dutifully complies. There are still loud recitations in those grocery store aisles though by someone who is staring off into the distance as if the rest of us weren't really there. But, for the most part all of us have learned how to behave when using a phone to actually speak to another human being.

However, just as the actual phone has changed over the years, so have the ways we can leave a message. Technology has advanced so much that cell phones are now connected to email addresses and it's possible to transmit a message without the nuisance of ever hearing someone's voice.

That has also given a lot of people deniability about ever getting the message in the first place. There's no middleman who can insist they wrote it down accurately and passed it along. We can swear we never got that text.

The rules of fair play have not completely caught up to messages just yet and have led to a common problem of people picking and choosing who they'll respond to based on level of importance. A lot of people, particularly parents of teenagers, have been left steaming mad wondering how they can get the offender to stop ignoring them and call them back.

The answer is you can't make anyone do anything and technology is not on your side so stop calling, stop texting, stop twittering, stop emailing those people who don't respond, especially those relatives or business associates who never answer. Your messages are letting them know you're okay, satisfying their curiosity without requiring any action on their part.

Go old school and leave one message and if you don't hear anything back, move on completely. If it's a relative who's underage, physically show up at their present location. The threat of showing your face will cure most teenagers and will inspire a quick response to all future inquiries. If they're of sound mind, able to vote and not in your physical geographical area let it go. Currently, you are engaged in teaching someone to disrespect you and it will bleed into all other areas.

Set the bar higher and walk away. Use the time that would have been wasted leaving messages for tuba lessons or reading a book or making new friends. Those who want to honor your time will get back to you, those who don't will get the message.

Martha Randolph Carr's latest book, A Place to Call Home, a memoir about the reemergence of U.S. orphanages is available wherever books are sold. If you'd like Martha to come and speak to your group visit: www.newvoicespeakers.com. Martha's Big Adventure coming soon to World Talk Radio and Voice America. Email Martha at: Martha@caglecartoons.com or visit www.martharandolphcarr.com.

© 2008 Martha Randolph Carr. Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Sales at (805) 969-2829 or email Sales@cagle.com.

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