Caeli Wolfson Widger guilt trips about her recent experience of not picking up on a call from her cousin, even though Widger was not pressed for time and could have chatted:
Why the lie? I had time to talk. I had the privacy and quietude I rarely have at my home full of little children and happy chaos. Some of my best conversations of all time have been with Stacey. But my reflex was to avoid her call. These days, I hardly ever pick up.
Most of my daily phone-based exchanges are conducted via text and messaging on social-media platforms. With those, I’m rapid-fire on the turnaround. Every ping signaling a text or swoosh alerting me to a Twitter direct message feels like a tiny gift in waiting. The trill of an unexpected incoming call, on the other hand, feels like a potential demand on my time and attention.
She discovered a week later that her cousin had been very distraught: her cousin in fact asked her to delete the voicemail without listening to it, a recommendation that Widger ignored. Nonetheless, her first comment — ‘Why the lie?’ — makes the assumption that we are lying to others when we don’t answer the phone.
Widger’s may be the old school attitude, but it’s simply wrong: there should be no obligation — or assumption — that we will answer the phone when it rings if we are able to.
Telephone calls are intrusive: they require foreground attention, so it’s difficult to continue doing whatever it is you are up to — writing, reading, cooking dinner, even driving a car — while talking on the phone.
The new doctrine is that a phone call, like any other activity that requires foreground attention, needs to be scheduled. This allows both participants to pick a time appropriate for the call, with few distractions, and in a setting that’s sensible: not shopping at the mall, while having sex, or sitting a dentist waiting room.
So: it’s not a lie to not pick up. In fact, I wish my phone wouldn’t ring unless I have a call from that number scheduled in my calendar, or I have clicked on the ‘accept call’ switch following a text request.
I recently wrote a longish post at GigaOM called It isn’t how much time you have, but how you protect it where I argued that we have to commit to only doing what’s important:
Don’t do anything unimportant, no matter how urgent it seems, unless you do it for love.
So, perhaps in Widger’s case, she should have taken her cousin’s call, for love. But I would still expect a text message first, these days. That’s the postnormal etiquette, after all.
- George Vaillant, regarding the positive benefits of a warm childhood.
The single most consistent predictor of how we will fare in life is whether we were loved as children. But I think this quote has a more general applicability.
- Vincent van Gogh