Last night at midnight I got a phone call. Normally, even before I’d completely abandoned REM bliss, my heart would be pumping. Before I’d open my eyes and whip my head around to see who it was, I’d be running through all the possible scenarios: someone got into a fiery car crash; my roommate got locked out of the apartment and is being chased around San Francisco by a gang of homeless marauders; oh God, Grandma Margaret died. Every late night call shaves countless months off my life. Fortunately, it was nothing; just a friend calling to confirm plans for this weekend.
Given that there are so many other ways to reach me without waking me up from my slumber (e.g., text, email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) this person choose to call me. At midnight. On a Wednesday. Why?
More broadly, why do we use telephones at all in 2013? Counting out the elderly and the disabled among us, for whom other forms of communication might prove exceedingly difficult, it’s because we’re selfish and we’d rather inconvenience the person on the other line to meet our own needs than wait until it’s convenient for both of us to talk.
What does a phone call say? It says: I have a need. And this need must be fulfilled right now, from you. It doesn’t take the other person into consideration at all. Unless they’re planned, phone calls are designed to be convenient for the caller, not the recipient. As a result, calling someone is, necessarily, a selfish way to communicate. And we know that this is true; think about telemarketing, phone surveys, etc. An unexpected phone call doesn’t preface by saying, “Are you busy?” (or in my case, “Are you sleeping?”) It just rings and rings and rings, like an incessant, annoying child.
Basically, all unexpected phone calls are like THIS. Thankfully, you can still use your telephone without being a nuisance.
When to call someone in 2013:
- It’s an emergency!!!! For example, someone the recipient knows has died or has been involved in a fiery car accident. Or, the zombie apocalypse has begun. The recipient will thank you for this information, no matter the time of day or what they were doing when you called.
- I have an immediate need that cannot wait. Sometimes, things are urgent. There are deadlines that simply cannot be met without the recipient’s help. But there’s urgent and there’s things that can be communicated via text, email, Facebook, Twitter or any number of other services that are less disruptive and less intrusive. Use good judgment or risk being “the boy who called.” (see what I did there?)
- We have previously planned to have this conversation on the phone. Fantastic! This is ideal. You have buy-in from the recipient to be called, so you know that you’re not calling them unexpectedly. As a best practice in work situations, schedule calls with Outlook or Google Calendar (or whatever you use) and be sure to indicate who will call whom, at what time, how long they should expect the call to last and what the call will be about. Not only does this completely eliminate discourteous calling, it helps ensure that the call goes smoothly and everyone is prepared to participate.
- I just called because…I have something to tell you or sell you. Unless you know for certain that the person on the other end is bored and has nothing else to do but talk to you, this is NOT a reason to call. For these things, consider whether it’s more appropriate to send a text, instant message, email, Facebook message, tweet or something else. Considering the recipient of your message goes a long way to ensuring a relationship with mutual respect for time and information.
Here’s to a more call-courteous 2013! Let me know your thoughts about phone calls, calling etiquette and modern communications in general.