July 9th, 2009
I am one of a dying – or perhaps already dead – breed.
That would be the breed of people that even understand that there is such a thing as telephone etiquette, never mind having an inkling of what that actually is.
I looked on the internet to see if, in this day and age, one could even find anywhere some instruction as to how telephones should be used and answered. I was able to find this tidbit:
Think about what time it is, when placing a call. You would not want to call when there is the possibility that person may be asleep. For example on a work morning before 7:00 a.m. would not be a good time. (I would say on any morning before 7 am is not a good idea!) After 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. in the evening is not a good time, and remember to avoid calls around the usual period most people will be eating. Courtesy is expected when using the telephone just as if you are talking in person.
Apparently I am one of the dinosaurs that still think this sort of thing is important – although, I might add, given that it is how I was raised, I can depend on my family to adhere to these rules as well. You will never catch us calling each other at early or late hours, because as much as we might love each other and want to talk, we also respect each other’s households and understand that, after a certain time in the evening, or before a certain time in the morning, forcing others to deal with the outside world is just simply rude. And if you don’t live in my house, you are, no matter how much I love you, part of the outside world.
If this all sounds positively ancient, I also found this Etiquette for Dummies book in which telephone etiquette, including using cell phones, was also addressed:
Your behavior when the telephone rings can amount to the world’s fastest indication of how you feel about the importance of others. This immediate impression has become especially true with the enormous use of cell phones…
You know, it’s hard to believe, I know, but there was actually a time when we did not have cell phones, or answering machines, or email or even phones. And although I’m certainly not suggesting that we need to return to those times, or should not take advantage of these technological advances, I sorely miss the civility that prevailed when we first developed them, the days when people didn’t need to heighten their feelings of self-importance by answering every bloody call that chimed in, the days when people understood that someone’s phone was not the equivalent of a 24-hour store, when people understood that there was a proper time and place for calling just as there is a proper time for showing up on people’s doorsteps. Unless there was a late plane arrival, of which I would previously be aware, I would not allow someone to show up on my doorstep unannounced at a late hour of the evening, or an early hour of the morning. And most people would not dream of coming by unannounced at 8:00 in the morning or 10:00 at night. So why do they think doing this on the phone is acceptable? I still have to talk to you. I still have to “entertain” you. I still have to turn my attention away from my children and my household, with whom I may be preparing for the day or settling down after a long day. I still have to be mentally presentable and available to you at the expense of others in my house, instead of being able to relax and either prepare myself for my day or quietly rest after a long one.
This has long been a sore point in this household, and with the cellphone now being the one that rings, the idea is, hey, it’s not your cellphone, it’s not for you, it shouldn’t be an issue. But it still is for me. And clearly I need to get over it because it is not going to change, would be difficult to change when people have never even lived by such rules of etiquette as I refer to. It’s like trying to teach someone who’s eaten with their hands all their lives not just how to eat with a knife and fork, but why doing so is more presentable in certain situations. You can teach the rules but you will never see the dawning of true comprehension. I might as well try to teach the cat.
So all I can do is make sure that my children understand such rules, which, like most etiquette rules, are not just about acting proper but about being considerate of other people. About thinking before you act and saying, gee, I would like to talk to Mary right now but is it a good time for me to interrupt her household? Might they be eating breakfast? Or getting the kids ready for bed? Or, perhaps, sleeping or just winding down? Is there another time during the middle of the day that might be better for me and her? Does she live alone or are there other people I might also be disturbing? Or, if you’re on the receiving end of a call, do I need to talk right now or would it be nice to interact with the people in my house for a few minutes? Are my children trying to talk to me? What example am I setting when the phone and the computer are almost reflexive actions for me? Is it possible for me to not answer the phone or not check email at dinner? Or breakfast? Can the outside world wait while I live my life in the present for just a few minutes?
Bloody amazing, people are these days. And much as I try to chalk it up to a lack of upbringing, it’s really not that hard to just think about other people sometimes, or to realize that the world can and will go on if someone leaves a message, or if you don’t answer that email the second it comes in. But these days, you have better luck getting full attention by email or phone than you do when you sit with someone over dinner or breakfast, and even those who attempt not to answer still feel the need to see who is calling, still get momentarily distracted as they have to process the idea of not answering the call of the siren. We’re turning into a world that turns away from flesh and blood to deal with people who present themselves virtually. And that’s pretty sad.