A ringing phone is a request, not an order

One behavioural tendency that I find odd is how people with whom you are talking in person often expect you to break off your conversation in order to answer any telephone call you receive. In some cases, people have told me they feel that they are being rude to the caller by maintaining your attention.

To me, this seems like a misunderstanding of both politeness and the nature of telephones. While phones are conduits for communication, their existence does not create an obligation to answer at all times. Indeed, when one is already occupied in an activity that should be the focus of one’s activities, it would seem that politeness decrees that the call be ignored.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

13 thoughts on “A ringing phone is a request, not an order”

  1. this is a true claim, but, the mistake is systematic. The best thing we can do as individuals is act rightly and encourage others to, but I don’t think this is a case for judgment.

  2. Especially if you are having dinner. I have rebuffed a few friends for chattering away at length while were are supposed to be enjoying dinner in a restaurant.

  3. Perhaps my views reveal my generally anti-telephone stance, but I have the opposite view from you guest – I’d consider it far ruder for someone to leap up and answer the phone while we were engrossed in conversation. Exceptions can be made when expecting important calls, etc, but overall, I think we allow ourselves to be at the beck and call of a ringing phone far too often.

  4. As a professional paper-pusher, you must have realized that Blackberries are even worse.

  5. Funny how people can get enslaved by technology, rather than empowered by it.

  6. And so you will be, in just over a month’s time – perfect timing for holiday revelry!

  7. Oh yes, I despise the sense of urgency the cellphone inspires.
    The Covey model makes a distinction between the important and the urgent. Phones calls are merely urgent, and very rarely important.
    I do like to answer a long distance call, despite being in someone else’s company, but only briefly and then schedule a time convenient for both parties to chat. Never is it acceptable to have a phone at the table– I despite the habit emerging where people (men) take the phones out of their pockets and place them on the table during meals.
    Dorothy Parker said the ugliest of modern gestures was a man looking at his wristwatch, as the cell phone clock replaces the wristwatch I do say we have a new one.
    Further I hate the anxiety a ringing phone inspires. Especially as all my calls come through my personal cell I find sometimes, especially before an event or plan to meet the phone will ring in succession and often repeat calls from the same people. The price of being popular, I suppose, but like Dorothy Parker again, so like me in temperament I am tempted to ask the caller on answering; “What fresh hell is this?”

  8. The telephone was an aberration in human development. It was a 70 year or so period where for some reason humans decided it was socially acceptable to ring a loud bell in someone else’s life and they were expected to come running, like dogs. This was the equivalent of thinking it was okay to walk into someone’s living room and start shouting.”

  9. I have been trying out a policy of ‘No Cell Phone Sundays’.

    If I carry my iPhone with me, I keep it off. That way, if I want to use it to access Google Maps or take a photo or dictate a voice memo, it is available.

    With the phone off, I am not interrupted by calls. I find it extremely distracting to be interrupted by phone calls. Often, I am caught up in the flow of performing one task and the call relates to something totally different that I also have to do. Trying to divide my attention between both tasks leaves me frustrated, slightly overwhelmed, and less productive.

    The constant flow of text messages and emails that accompany iPhone possession are also distracting.

    I am not sure how long I will keep it going for, but it has been working rather well so far. No Cell Phone Sundays also increase the odds that I will feel like I had a ‘real’ weekend, before work resumes on Monday.

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