I never answer my cell phone. If I see a call coming in, I almost always hit the “Ignore” button (unless it’s something really important for work, and even then I usually like to see what they have to say in a voicemail first). Generally, I don’t really like to talk to people to begin with, but even if it’s someone I like, it never seems like a good time for me to talk to them when they call. I’m always either eating, watching TV, running errands, or just plain tired. Do you know how hard it is to find 30 minutes of free time to have a real phone conversation these days? The odds of me liking the person who calls, compounded by the low probability of them calling at the precise moment that I can talk, is like 1-in-1,000.
E-mail is so much better. For one thing, I don’t actually have to talk to anyone, which is nice. I can respond to it at my leisure (you can’t really call someone at 3 am, but I can write an e-mail at that time). I can multi-task when writing an e-mail (people get pissed when you are on the phone with them and they can hear Lost playing in the background and you only talk to them during the commercial breaks). And lastly, e-mail and texting reminds me of the old days when we used to pass notes in school. I was a excellent note passer. I’d get a lot more girls with well-crafted notes than I would with a nervous, bumbling phone conversation.
So why do people call us to ask a simple question that could easily be done over an e-mail? Have you ever answered the phone and had the person ask something like this...
Person: “What was the name of that movie with Natalie Portman? You know, the period piece where they separate her and her lover, and he goes off to war because the younger sister lied about him?”
Me: “Natalie Portman? Do you mean Atonement??”
Person: “Yes! That’s it! Thanks!” Click.
Couldn't you have just e-mailed or texted me that question? You’re telling me that I bothered to pause my TiVo, answer the phone, and muster up the enthusiasm to interact with another human being, and THIS is what you have to say? Oh course, what would be worse is if they wanted to have a whole big conversation about Atonement, or any other topic for that matter.
What's even worse than a frivolous call (like the one above) is the pointless call. Don't you hate it when this happens?...
Person: "Hi, how's it going?"
Me: "It's going OK. What's up?" [my nice way of saying, "hurry up and get to the point of why you are calling"]
Person: "Nothing. I was just calling to say hi."
What?! Oh come on. I don't have time for this. I have things to do and personal time to enjoy. Only call me if you have something interesting or important to say. Don't call me up "just to say hi". That's a bullshit waste of my time. You might want to "just say hi", but I want to "just say bye".
However, sometimes you have to call people on the phone, and I understand that. More often than not, you just have to tell them something simple, like the time and place to meet you or the outcome of a business meeting. Typically, I would do this in an e-mail, but either the person has initially phoned me to ask the question that I’m trying to answer (so it's proper to respond to them via the same method of communication that they originated), or they are one of those people that don’t really use e-mail in a timely manner and insist on always using a phone (which is really very selfish of them and a horrible inconvenience to everyone who is forced to interact with them).
When I call someone under these circumstances, I get more and more excited with every unanswered ring, because I know that I am one step closer to merciful voicemail. Please go to voicemail. Please go to voicemail. If it goes to voicemail, then I can simply leave a message with the information, there will be no need for them to call me back, and we will be done with the whole thing. Voicemail is like an audio e-mail.
So I get voicemail, which is great, and then I leave a long message explaining everything. But sometimes I will be in mid-message and my phone will beep and it’s the person, who I was just leaving the message for, calling me back! Or sometimes they call you back JUST AFTER you have left the voicemail. In both circumstances, they haven’t even listened to my message, but they are calling me.
Here are my thoughts – if you don’t answer your phone or you miss a call, then that’s too fucking bad. Do you know what you should do? You should wait to see if the caller leaves you a voicemail, then you listen to the voicemail, and then you can call them back if you still feel that you need to. Why do you bother to have voicemail if you’re going to waste my time and make me leave a message (or a partial message) that you aren't even going to listen to? I have this one person who will immediately call me back after I've just left a long voicemail (always without listening to the message) and this is how it goes:
Person: “Hi. You just called.”
Me: “Uh, yeah [defeated sigh, because I know where this is headed]. I just left you a voicemail. Did you get it?”
Person: “No, I didn't listen to it. I just saw that you called, so I’m calling you back.”
Now, what I really want to say at this point is “How do you even know that I wanted you to call me back at all? Why don’t you hang up the fucking phone, and listen to the message that I just spent two minutes leaving for you, and THEN decide what to do?” But, instead, I say:
Me: “Well, I was calling to tell you... [and now I proceed to regurgitate the entire voicemail that I just left, word for word].”
Sometimes people will call you back right away after they missed your call WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING WHO YOU ARE! Have you ever gotten one of these?...
Person: “Hi, this Robert. Someone just called me.”
Someone just called you? What the fuck? You don’t know who called you and you’re so desperate to talk to people that you’re *69ing a total stranger?? What if it was a wrong number? What if my voicemail (that you didn't listen to) perfectly describes who I am and what I wanted?
And that is another thing – if a caller doesn't leave you a voicemail, then you really shouldn't call them back at all. If it was THAT important, then I would have left you a voicemail, or I will call you back later. If it’s NOT important, or if I DON’T WANT you calling me back, then I’m not going to leave a voicemail!
Speaking of voicemail, who are these people that have their voicemail box “full” so you can’t even leave a message? What the hell is with that? That is the worst. Maybe I don’t have your e-mail, or maybe you’re one of these “phone-only” people, or maybe I’m returning your call... except that I CAN'T, because your fucking fat mailbox is full. I’m very suspicious of this, by the way. I mean, how many voicemails does it take to make a mailbox full these days? 20? 40? 100? Who keeps that many voicemails? Why aren't you deleting them? What is wrong with you? I sometimes wonder if people set their mailbox to say that it’s full, when it really isn't. Although why would they want to go to such lengths to avoid a new voicemail? So with this particular type of person, you have to keep calling and calling and calling, and hope to eventually reach them live – which is like the biggest inconvenience in the world.
Let’s be honest, no one really wants to interact with you anyway, so let’s set the hurdle rate as low as possible and make it as painless and efficient as possible. Don’t call someone if you can convey the same message in an e-mail or text. Don’t immediately call people back if you missed their call – wait and see if a voicemail is left first. Listen to voicemails. Don’t call back numbers you don’t recognize. Don’t be obnoxious with a full voicemail – delete messages after listening to them. And know the difference between Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley!