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What phone etiquette?!

March 10, 2014

Picture the scene: you’re walking down the street, minding your own business. You’re pretty busy actually, but it’s not obvious to look at you – which is why you forgive easily when a good friend of yours, who happens to be walking by on the opposite side of the road, crosses over, making a beeline for you. They’ve come to have a chat.

I use the term “chat” loosely, because the words are free of interest an are merely a bunch of phatic expressions strung together as an ill-disguised attempt to fish for conversation, even though it was them who wanted to talk in the first place. This is annoying, since it should really be them that makes the effort. Clearly, they have too much time on their hands but are too lazy to find something to fill it with.

You humour them. You answer their question and return it, or maybe it occurs to you that you actually have something pressing to ask them, so you do so right there and then. Perhaps you think of something funny or interesting to say, way beyond the level of the banal drivel they opened the conversation with. Whereupon they turn around and walk off without a word and nary a backward glance. Confused, you wait a while for them to come back and answer, but they don’t.

You wonder if you’ve offended them somehow, if maybe they’ve adopted some culture where returning a question is akin to returning a gift unopened. If you had attempted to be witty, you may feel offended and faintly annoyed that you took time out to offer some personal part of yourself, in the name of courteously pretending to give a rats arse about something utterly pointless and boring, only to have your gesture waved away like a pervading waft of old fish.

But then you remember that you didn’t really want to have a conversation anyway, that you were busy. You try not to fall for the strange reverse psychology that makes you feel as though you are the one who somehow lost out by being so brutally denied something you never wanted in the first place. You take yourself out of conversation mode, having made the effort to get into it – in my case, a considerable effort – and go about your business.

You pretend to yourself that you have forgotten about the whole thing. Surreptitiously, you look behind you every few paces to check to see if you’re friend is running to catch up with you, apologising and picking up the conversation where it left off. Even though you know you shouldn’t be thinking about it (you were perfectly happy before they and their sorry arse showed up), you can’t shake this unsettling feeling that you’ve been roundly dissed.

The very next day, you’re walking on that same stretch of road when that very same friend strides confidently up to you and proceeds to take up the conversation as if there has been no break. Perhaps they answer your pressing query (too late). They may laugh (unconvincingly and belatedly) at your marvellous joke, which despite knowing that you shouldn’t care, you’ve spend all night meditating on, trying to gauge if it was actually funny or just blindingly stupid. This reaction comes much to your chagrin. How dare they condescendingly humour you, and with such a lack of conviction, when you humoured their boring bollocks so genuinely and generously!

Or else, they might answer your trivial question that you had no wish to ask in the first place, or ask another related, trivial question. Say they enquired after your health yesterday, today they’re asking what you’re “up to”. You both politely ignore the fact that there’s been a gap of 24 hours.

This is my exact experience of dealing with people via text message. You can’t see what they’re doing, so when they contact you out of the blue about nothing in particular it feels safe to infer that they are not busy. In order to be pleasant, you go along with it even though you happen to be engaged in something else, only to find your text drops dead into the nether world between sent and received. You even go so far as to check your outbox to see if it sent, like a clingy and paranoid lover indirectly asking if their partner is out with any members of their preferred sex, complete with the passive-aggressive ellipsis-question mark combination.

I never take them up on it, yet these same friends get annoyed with me the one day that I don’t reply to that text. Or they have the nerve, the sheer nerve, to send me a single question mark not fifteen minutes later. A single question mark. Oh, how I long for the day when everyone was charged 10p for every single page text. Let’s see you clutter up my inbox pestering me with random bits of punctuation then.

I’M IN THE BATH, you imbecile. You might keep your expensive electronic equipment with you when you submerge yourself in water but I don’t – even though I’m the one person I know who could actually get away with that, since I own an old school, indestructible Nokia brick. You might snuggle up with your iPod at night and have its eye-poking backlight gently cradle you to sleep. I, however, accidentally-on-purpose leave my phone in “the other room” at every available opportunity because I have a potent love-hate relationship with other people’s attentions, particularly when it comes in conjunction with loud buzzing and beeping sounds.

Yet I still tend to be able to reply well before 24 full hours. If I was hit by a car and laid up in hospital, I’d still manage that. And these same friends expect me to believe their “credit” has run out (I’m the only person I know on pay-as-you-go, and even I can’t honestly use that excuse). What, was that your last penny? The rest of your money is for bread and alcohol? Lies!

Other good excuses include dead batteries that have remained uncharged for a full 24 hours, as if I’m supposed to believe that of these people who can’t stay off their phones longer than the fifteen minutes it takes to not send me texts with literally no words in them. If I’m lucky I get single letters like“lol” or “k”. Sometimes I even get “kkk”, no longer the Klu Klux Klan, but rather just a variation of “OK” – because it’s just cooler these days to make your abbreviations longer than the thing their abbreviating. What incenses me about that is that it sounds impatient, as if I’ve been bothering them incessantly rather than the other way around.

Oh, and then there are the people whose phone has broken and mysteriously fixed itself. Lies! I’ve seen more mashed up phones than intact ones, since phones have got more and more complicated and fragile as time goes by. No one can afford new ones so as a culture we have a marvellous way of working past it, to the extent where we willingly brave the extraordinary annoyance of using a mashed up piece of crap for something as unimportant as Twitter. Every five minutes. So don’t give me that nonsense.

Then there’s the “I’m ill” brigade. So what you’re saying is, you’re sitting at home bored out of your mind doing nothing, but you still can’t answer my question. Oh, but it’s OK to demand entertainment from me when I’m working and then act affronted when I don’t snap to attention. Or, how about the “I was in a meeting / lecture” people. 24 hour meetings! I’ve heard that bureaucracy jargon and “team-building” exercises make up and alarming amount of corporate life, but I do think that a 24 hour meeting might just be against the law. Or maybe not in America, provided the company set up some hammocks.

Speaking of hammocks, I’ve seen hammocks for phones. Chairs for phones. Beds for phones. Thrones for phones. I complain about the people who use them incessantly, but it’s all the phone’s fault really. It’s an evil master-manipulator that demands attention every five seconds by making us fear being isolated from the rest of the world, in a way we never did before it came into our lives. Say, my own phone is looking at me kind of funny. Maybe I’ll send someone a text.


From → Internet Culture

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