Your phone rings — yes some people like use their phones to make calls — so you look down and see it’s a call from “Unknown Number”. You’re a bit busy so you can’t answer it right now, so it rings out. 30 seconds later you get a text message: “You have one new voicemail.”
Your day is off to a bad start.
Half an hour later when you get a chance, you listen to the voicemail. It’s you cousin Brian and he just says, “Hey it’s Brian, give me a call back.” Thanks for that Brian. He’s your cousin so you figure what the hell, dig out his number and give him a call. This time it’s Brian who doesn’t answer, you get his voicemail but, because you’re a decent person, you hang up the phone before the beep. You know Brian will see the missed call, know who has called and ring you back.
But he doesn’t. Brian is a prick.
With all the focus on what smartphones can do and how they’re affecting us, many people have lost sight of how to use our phones like an actual, original, dial-a-number phone without behaving like an ass. This isn’t an argument against buying a smartphone, but just a sad fact of life.
Let’s look at some of the ways people act like pricks, possibly without even realizing it.
Using Private Numbers
There are three kinds of people who hide their number when they’re making phone calls: teenagers making prank calls, spam callers, and creepy exes hoping to trick you into answering the phone. None of these are people you should really be trying to emulate.
If you’re older than 15, the appeal of dialling a local business and asking for “Seymour Butts” or “Ivanna Hump” should really be beginning to wear off. At the very least, you should realise that you only need private number turned on when you’re calling Moe’s Tavern and leave it off most of the time.
If one more unknown number calls me or texts me I'm taking it to the police. It's annoying and not funny at all
— Julie (@Juuuliiieeeee) August 23, 2015
I personally think spam callers should be tied up and locked in a room with 300 seven-year-olds who’ve been given a triple espresso, a load of sugar on their cereal, and a drum kit each. That way they might get a small glimpse at the annoyance they spread every day. Are these the people whose phone etiquette you should be modelling yourself on?
Finally, a small bit of advice. If you’re turning on private number in a vain attempt to trick someone into answering the phone, you’ve got a problem. If they don’t want to hear from you, treat the person with a small bit of respect and don’t call them. Odds are they’re not going to be fooled by the sudden increase in calls from private numbers. Again, weird exes like spam callers aren’t the best role models.
Turn off private number. If you’re calling someone, you generally want them to know who you are once you’re talking to them on the phone. Hiding your number just makes it impossible for them to return your call if they miss it… unless you leave a voicemail.
Leaving Voice Mails
Answering machines were a wonderful invention – 50 years ago. You could call someone and, if they didn’t answer, let them know who called and what you wanted. Amazing.
The world, however, have moved on.
What happens when you leave a voicemail? Well the person who you called… gets a text telling them they’ve a new voicemail. So then they have to call the voicemail, sit through a rambling voice message, and — if you’re leaving any information like phone numbers, directions, or addresses — hastily scratch down whatever you say; if they don’t get it all in one go, they have to listen again. It kind of sucks.
1985: [music in background] Leave a message after the tone. I'll call you back.
2000: [disgusted] Leave a message.
— erik (@ericsshadow) August 22, 2015
Now let’s look at the alternative. You call, they don’t answer so you hang up and then send them a text message (or a message from any other popular app) saying why you called. They still get a single message, but this time, it includes everything you wanted them to know.
If you need to talk them on the phone, you say it and let them know when’s good for them to call back. If you are giving them an address or phone number, you just type it into the message so they have it forever. It’s simple, and more importantly, it’s the decent thing to do.
Not Returning a Call in Return to Your Call
This one is a personal bugbear of mine.
If you call me and I miss it, I’ll return it when I get the chance. If you then don’t answer, that’s grand, but if you turn around and don’t return my missed call with no explanation, you’re an ass.
I get it, more than other forms of communication, phone calls can be time sensitive. The reason you’re ringing is that you need something now and other notifications are too easy to get rid of. If you’re stranded somewhere and you’re phoning me for a lift, me returning the call an hour later isn’t any use. It is, however, the decent thing to then send a message saying as much. All that’s needed is something like, “Hey, needed a lift. Got it sorted. Talk soon.”
Using a Phone Call When a Text Would Do
I love phone calls. I think they’re under utilized. There are times when you end up sending 30 texts to sort something when a single, three-minute phone call would have done the same job. Some people — especially younger people — are reluctant to make phone calls and it’s annoying. The opposite, however, is arguably a bigger problem: making a phone call when a text would do.
I hate talking on the phone unless you're bae. Don't call me, I won't answer. Just text me, I might respond.
— Goddess ? (@Rosa_Sparkz) August 25, 2015
If you’re trying to tell someone you’re running five minutes late, or where to meet later, or update them on something brief, the best way to do it is with a short message. A phone call is invasive. They have to answer it then and there or return the call at a later time. For some things this isn’t important, but if you can say what needs saying in under 140 characters, don’t pick up the phone.
Hanging Things Up
Smartphones are amazing. They’ve completely changed how we communicate. A decade ago, the idea that I’d mainly talk to my friends with selfies would have sounded ludicrous. With all these wonderful new ways of talking to people using our smartphones though, we’ve lost site of how to use them as phones.
A phone call can be one of the best ways to communicate, but if people start behaving like asses — having private number on, leaving voice mails, not returning calls, or calling unnecessarily — it ruins it for the rest of us.
As ever, we want to hear what you think. What are phone etiquette errors drive you up the wall? Let us know in the comments.
Image Credits:Cracked smartphone by SharkPaeCNX via Shutterstock