Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In Defense of the Busy Signal

I miss the busy signal.

Remember the busy signal? The steady, annoying beeping sound that signified that the person you were calling on the phone was on the line with another person? Quick—without thinking—tell me the last time you actually heard the busy signal. It has probably been a long time, right? Well, if you miss it, you can call us here at Chez Barbieri. I’m convinced—as are my technology-starved children who share a dsl connection with their mother—that we’re the only family in America who doesn’t have call waiting.

As much as I miss the busy signal, I hate call waiting even more. Here’s my experience with call waiting: if I’m on the phone with a friend and someone else beeps in, invariably, the friend I’m talking to says they have another call and they’ll have to call me back later. However, if I beep in on a conversation that the same friend is having with someone else, their response is always to tell me that they’re on another call and they’ll have to call me back later.


Ellen DeGeneres once called call waiting “a mini People’s Choice Awards” and I have to agree. There is nothing to make you feel less worthy than someone a) jettisoning you from a conversation in progress or b) cutting you off to return to another conversation in progress—i.e. not taking your call—albeit at different times. Besides that, it’s rude.

I do think there are times that letting someone go from the original conversation is okay - someone else beeps in, say, your son or daughter is calling from a tank in Afghanistan. Or, your doctor is calling with results of your pregnancy test. Or, Fresh Direct is on its way to your house but doesn’t know your street number. Or, someone has forgotten their lunch and needs a nourishment, tout de suite. But if someone of equal or lesser value to you calls, it is the owner of call waiting’s responsibility to stay on the line with you because what you have to say is just as—if not more—important.

The worst offender is the person who calls YOU and then takes another call during your conversation. Oh, we’re done? I often think. There’s also the person who just sees the number on caller ID and makes an instantaneous judgment that the person calling them is more deserving of their time than you are. You can tell all of that based on a phone number?

I have changed phone carriers many times in order to get a better deal. They always offer me all sorts of free services just shy of the one where a Verizon technician will come by every day and walk my dog. (When they give me that one, I’m switching back!) Call waiting is always on the menu and I always say “no thanks” which mystifies the sales representative. If I’m on the phone with someone, we will decide mutually when the conversation is over. We will not be subjected to a beeping sound that indicates someone else wants our attention. We will behave like civilized, polite human beings.

Besides, I probably wouldn’t be able to figure out to use it.

But that’s a post for another time.

Weigh in, Stiletto faithful: what modern “conveniences” do you eschew? (I’m looking at you, Polito!)

Maggie Barbieri


  1. I'm with you. And frankly, I don't get that many phone calls that people are tripping over each other to try to reach me. If it's that vital, they can come over and tell me what's so important in person =)

  2. Jumping up and down waving, "Me, too, me, too!" We don't have call waiting at Chez McBride-Spitznagel either. I hate when I'm talking to people and the beeping starts...and they finally come back and say, "Gotta go, it's so and so." Which has me thinking, "Oh, boy, so now I know for sure that so and so is more important than I am." I realized, too, that when I did radio interviews via phone, the beeping would inevitably start and I couldn't hear the questions being asked me. So I finally said, "Enough!" I have fought with the phone company so often over bills that I finally made Ed call them to straighten our crazy bills out. All I want is the land line to dial out and ring when someone's dialing us. I don't need it to do special tricks. Oh, and I also have the oldest flip (cell) phone on the planet, which doesn't do texting or emails or photos. I only turn it on when I'm in the car and might need directions or emergency assistance. Yes, I am a dinosaur, and I aim to stay one as long as I can.

  3. You want to put people into a state only otherwise induced by the Vulcan Nerve Pinch just tell them that sometimes you just don't answer the phone because you're busy with work or reading, or enjoying face-to-face conversation, or in no mood to talk.

    Also, one of my sisters taught me long ago that it's okay to point out to people that you have things like a phone, answering machine, email, etc. for YOUR convenience, not THEIRS.

  4. I hate when people call me and then tell me they have another call and they'll call me back. How rude is that? I am guilty of not answering the phone when they do call back, because now it's my time and you lost your time with me.

    What I truly don't like is when I'm in conversation with you and you get a cell phone call and you answer and instead of saying I'll call them back, you immediately forget that I'm there and hold a phone conversation. My answer to that is I walk away. I don't like it when it is done to me while eating out as well.

  5. Mags, I forgot to answer "the look"!

    Hmmm . . .

    I'm going to say that I have no use for and even a smug disdain for Face Book and Twitter and Four Square. I'm with Betty White: that stuff looks like a huge waste of time.

    I'm not a fan of the drive-through for food or drinks.

    Oh, and I don't like sprinkler systems. They're a tremendous waste of a valuable and costly resource--water--all to have an unnatural green lawn (yep, the concept of the lawn is more sales pitch and tradition than any sort of "natural" occurrence).

    Oh, and in actual gadgets, the GPS! They are brilliant for people who have road jobs or when you are getting a rental car on vacation in a place you aren't familiar with, but if I see one more idiot revving up their little over-lord to simply run an errand in their own town, I'll hurl.

    Lastly, though it's not a gadget it does seem to be something people find useful: I hate like poison the "emoticon" and abbreviations like "LOL". They are an affront to language and intellect and I can't stand them. Go ahead, I dare you. Send me a message with some mock winking-eye punctuation or tell me that your bringing the funny because you tacked on "LOL". Ick.


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