Having now worked outbound customer service for Safeco Insurance for the past several days, I have become convinced that Americans are neurotic about answering their telephones. Some of things that people have set aside long enough to answer my call have been both alarming and amusing. For instance, one call I placed was answering by a particular female who was obviously busy with something. I could hear quite a lot of water in the background, the source of which was clearly very close to the phone receiver on her end. We chatted for a few moments while I introduced myself and explained the nature of my call. When we got to the point in the conversation where I requested the actual information of her, she informed me that she would have to call me back – she had her head under the kitchen faucet and she was washing her hair! I stifled a laugh of surprise as she handed the phone to her daughter, who promptly took down the callback number and promised her that her mother would call back in a few minutes with the information we needed.
What has struck me in all this is how dependent on our telephones we are. We can’t simply let the phone ring, we have to rush to it and answer it immediately, lest we possibly miss something important. I’ll warrant that in some cases this is actually the case, but by and large the vast majority of phone calls we receive are little more than mundanities, things that we could ignore for at least a few moments and return to when other, more important things are taken care of first. Yet, we pick up the phone every time it rings and are often terse and perturbed when we find that it is not someone we wish to talk to.
Of course, my wife reminded me that oftentimes we answer the phone just to stop that infernal ringing. (Enter Pavlov.) I must admit that sometimes I can’t bear the sound of the ringer, but I would also propose that turning off the ringer is also a viable alternative. It seems that much of our time would be better spent on more important, and more satisfying, pursuits, such as giving that time to family and friends and the community. So, for those of you who can’t bear to be away from your phones (or cell phones) for longer than five minutes, I submit that you might find it worthwhile to change your lifestyle. A little extra ‘free’ time never hurt anyone.