Saturday, October 13, 2018

Hang Ups

We're all become Ernestine. That famous Lily Tomlin character from the breakthrough 1960's comedy show "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" was an operator who worked for "The Phone Company." Not the Verizon or AT&T of today, but a composite Bell System of yesteryear, whose tag line was "We don't have to care: we're the Phone Company." It's not that attitude that we have all assumed, but rather her opening gambit, whereby she dialed a number, then counted off, "One Ringey Dingey. Two Ringey Dingeys." 

We count because it's no longer as simple as letting it ring until someone on the other end picks up. In college there was an informal metric as to how long you had to wait before leaving a class that no one showed up to teach. If it was an instructor, there was 5-minute slippage factor. If it was an assistant or adjunct professor, the window was 10 minutes. And a full professor was allotted a grace period of 15 minutes before you could leave without repercussions. In that same light, we seem to have developed a sliding scale to hanging up before the beep. 

If you're calling someone who works at a desk, where the phone is within easy each, you might give them 2 ringey dingeys, 3 if you're feeling generous. There are either there or they're not. They are either available or they're not. They are either willing to talk to you or they're not. In each of those negatives, all the ringing in the world won't get you answered. 

However if your call is going to a mobile phone, it's somewhat gender and age specific. If it's a teenage girl who has it in her hand, one ring is all it takes. If it's a male or female who keeps the phone in their pocket, a 2 count is sufficient. In both cases, they have the phone at the ready, and are ready for you. Or not. But it's a quick decision and reaction. However, if it's a woman who keeps it in her pocketbook, you have add a few more for the fish-it-out factor. And if it's your mother, double or even triple it be by land or cell. 

That said, in almost no case should you actually take the bait and leave a message. Voicemail used to seem like such a great idea. You called to talk, couldn't make the connection, so you left a message. At the other end, the person you were trying to reach could call in at their convenience and hear a recording of you saying exactly what you wanted them to hear. How cool was that?

But that was then. This is now.  And now no one likes voicemail. Not the people leaving it, not the people picking it up. If you're the caller, when the beep occurs, it's like a director shouting "Action" to a scene you haven't rehearsed. And if you're the callee, you have to find the time to retrieve, play and then delete the message. Considering how fast things move today, in many cases that elapsed time from message left to retrieval of same renders the contents moot. With all that in mind, we're starting to see some companies whose phone system will no longer even take a message. A standardized recording asks you to try and reach the employee at another time, or send an email or text. It's more efficient and less costly. The bottom line is that in most cases if you get the beep, you should just press the "end" button and try a different path. And that goes for messages for your mom as well: after all, she likely has forgotten how to retrieve them anyways. 

Gawker has a list entitled "Don't leave a voicemail message if." It includes anything time sensitive, anything that you deem important, or if your message is simply a request to call you back. They say it's OK to leave a message is you can't text, if you're going to sing into the phone, or in the words of the old Stevie Wonder song, you just called to say I love you. Oh, and one other possible reason: you're going to die, and want the person at the other end to be able to save your last words. Other that, when you hear the beep, just hang up.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has learned to not leave messages, even for his mother. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.