Are you available?

Image: Flickr/Editor_B

My friend M is one of the smartest people I know.

She’s a doctor and a Mum to two beautiful little girls. She
reads, she has opinions, she’s thoughtful and a little bit neurotic, in the
good way. I like her a lot.

Last week,  we were chatting over a late lunch in M’s kitchen when
the phone rang.

And M didn’t answer it.

It says something about the company I keep that I was
amazed  – in my world, EVERYONE seems to
have some compulsion to answer their phones the moment they ring, bleep or beep
in case they miss a moment of knowing something world altering.

I'm guilty of it, too. I have a work mobile and a personal mobile, and a home phone. I'm pretty happy not to answer the phone if I'm busy, but I'm rarely more than 30 seconds away from being able to check email and voicemail messages.

M, in contrast, doesn’t answer her home phone EVER. She has
a mobile but only her husband and mother have the number. If she's home with her husband in the evening, they turn the home phone to silent. M's perspective is that people who call almost never have anything truly urgent to tell you, so why should you interrupt what you're doing at that moment to talk to them?

I’ve been thinking
about this and I think I should be a bit more like M.

I do have some rules about technology. I don't answer my home phone after 9pm. I never answer the phone if I'm speaking to someone else. If I’m in a restaurant, I put my phone on
silent and would always excuse myself to take a call outside, if necessary.

I
don't use my phone in the car – Flea provides a sterling answering service, in any case. I don't take my phone into the bedroom. I turn it off in the cinema and I think people who don't do that should be taken outside and shot, frankly. 

But still, I'm aware that I'm available far more than I'm unavailable. And I wonder – when does 'always available' turn into 'never fully present'?

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

30 Comments

  1. 30th June 2010 / 11:37 pm

    I don’t even check my messages. Bad, bad person I am. But I reckon I’ll hear if something important happens.

  2. 1st July 2010 / 6:38 am

    I have a friend who rarely answers her phone – because she’s an incredibly busy working woman, who has people constantly calling on her work and personal mobiles, and on her home phone. She has an answerphone message, but no ability to leave a message. And, frankly, it bugs the hell out of me. The only time I get to speak to her is on her terms, though, to be fair, she was completely available when I was waiting to give birth to Rosemary, to the point of coming in to drive Chris home when my labour wasn’t progressing. So, I guess she does make exceptions when necessary. Still bugs me, though.
    I, however, am guilty of answering email far too quickly, since I got a smartphone. I do check my phone once or twice when at baby groups or having coffee with a friend. And I answer the phone, if it’s Chris, because it bugs the hell out of him if I don’t. I will often say, ‘I’ll call you back in 10 minutes,’ though.
    But I hate, hate, hate, making business or household phone calls. If it can be done by email, I’ll do it by email – often when a phone call would be far quicker and more appropriate. I really hate it when clients phone to tell me something that could go in an email, especially when I have to say ‘Could you put that down in an email, so I have a record of it?’ People who phone to say ‘I’ve just sent you an email,’ are soooooo annoying, too.
    I think your friend may have gone a little too far the other way, but certainly cutting back is a healthy thing in this day and age.

  3. 1st July 2010 / 7:32 am

    I wonder if your friend’s phone habits are due to the fact that she is a doctor. Years of being on call and having to answer phones and pagers, not knowing exactly what he would be having to deal with, have left my husband with a complete hatred of the telephone. He never answers it at home and our home phone is always on answerphone so we can ring back in our own time.

  4. 1st July 2010 / 9:17 am

    I do sometimes find by the time I get around to checking voicemail I have 10 messages…

  5. 1st July 2010 / 9:18 am

    Ooh, actually, my sister-in-law doesn’t have voicemail on her home phone and it IS irritating – I never know whether to keep trying or not. And I’m totally with you on “I just sent you an email” phone calls – I get a LOT of those with my job. Grrr.

  6. 1st July 2010 / 9:19 am

    I think you may be right. The chap is a doctor and he is so unbothered by mobile comms he basically gives me his phone when I want a spare.

  7. 1st July 2010 / 9:22 am

    I went to someone’s house for a meeting theother day & her phone went & like M she didn’t answer it. I have the same ‘rules’ as you but also like you think I need to be a bit stricter over it. However, in my defense (!) I’m not inudated with calls so…..!

  8. 1st July 2010 / 9:30 am

    I feel a bit twitchy when I CAN’T check on things like emails and such as I DON’T have a smartphone. But, does it really matter, ultimately, most of the time. If it takes you 2 minutes or 5 hours to respond to something? And if emails come in after 4pm, most senders aren’t going to be there until 9am the following morning anyway. It’s a compulsion I guess…to feel needed? I’ll let you know what the counsellor says!
    🙂 K

  9. 1st July 2010 / 9:33 am

    Have you read this? Slightly tongue-in-cheek, but still food for thought.
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/17e32334-69e5-11df-a978-00144feab49a.html
    Personally, I have a golden rule of ‘strictly NO work-related calls between 5.30pm and 7.30pm” unless they want audience participation (ie 3 children vying to talk to the caller).
    And I ditched the BlackBerry along with the last job – bliss.
    LCM x

  10. 1st July 2010 / 9:51 am

    Your last line is amazing. Will be carrying that one around for a while I think – in a good way. So thought provoking. Thank you.

  11. 1st July 2010 / 9:56 am

    In theory, my mobile is there and I’m available. But I’ve a habit of not hearing my mobile, forgetting it, having it on silent in meetings, forgetting to switch it back to normal volume, not getting to it in time, lettign it run out of batteries – the list goes on. I do need to be on call a lot, and would generally check who is calling and answer depending on this. But that’s because it could be important. So I’m in a way the opposite – in danger of missing important calls because I’m rubbish with mobiles. No conscious decisions or rules, just me.

  12. Heather - Notes From Lapland
    1st July 2010 / 10:04 am

    I remember very vividly getting looks of horror from a friend and my hubby when we were all talking and my phone rang and i put it on silent and ignored it. I had nothing urgent to say to the person calling and we were having a chat. I wondered at the time if it was a Finnish thing cause I think nothing of ignoring a call if I am otherwise engaged or, to be honest, just can’t be bothered talking to who ever is calling.

  13. 1st July 2010 / 11:14 am

    How interesting. I’m guilty of being ‘too available’ in terms of email/text. But I would never answer my phone when I’m talking to someone else, unless it was either my boys’ nursery or an urgent work related call which I was expecting (in which case I would have warned whoever I was with that I was expecting a call). Otherwise whoever it is will just have to wait. I’m just old skool like that.
    But I do wonder about whether we ever really ‘switch off’ anymore? Phones, and thus texts/emails, come on holiday with us, out on family trips etc etc. Are we raising a generation of Blackberry/iphone orphans? Or has being connected liberated us?
    Must fly. Can hear email coming in 😉

  14. 1st July 2010 / 11:27 am

    I’m not sure there’s a right or wrong approach – I guess I just think I need to be a bit stricter for what’s left of my own sanity!

  15. 1st July 2010 / 11:27 am

    Exactly, I think the twitchy is a bad sign, isn’t it?

  16. 1st July 2010 / 11:28 am

    Thanks for the link. I do have times when there are NO calls, but I’m concerned they’re getting fewer and shorter. And yes, I’m getting sick of people constantly tending to blackberries and iPhones when I’m with them – WHY invite me over then ignore me??

  17. 1st July 2010 / 11:30 am

    Yes, I suppose I’ve gone too far the other way sometimes and then kicked myself when I’ve missed out on work because I wasn’t paying attention to my phone.

  18. 1st July 2010 / 11:31 am

    Exactly! I cannot stand it when someone invites you over and then expects you to listen to them on the phone for 20 minutes. Ugh. It’s one of the few things that really makes me hopping mad. Maybe I’m part Finnish.

  19. 1st July 2010 / 12:14 pm

    I really do think you might have a point with the iPhone orphans – I am horribly aware of how often I look at a screen when I’m with Flea, and I do feel guilty about it, to be honest.

  20. 1st July 2010 / 1:47 pm

    I’m trying very hard not to be too ‘available’ , I’ve only just checked my phone and twitter today and its 13.46 I’m very impressed with my self. The plan is to keep off line and keep twittering/email checking to a mininum when BG is awake but sometimes I can’t help it.

  21. Sara
    1st July 2010 / 1:50 pm

    I never answer the phone at mealtimes and I rarely answer my mobile of it doesn’t recognise the number or it’s withheld – I reckon anyone who really wants me will phone back. I don’t answer the home phone in the day very often either because it’s nearly always people who claim to be called “Wendy” or “John” trying to sell something or complete surveys.

  22. 1st July 2010 / 2:18 pm

    We never answer a call if it is a withheld number, mu opinion is if it is imporatant then they can leave a message!
    I never answer the home pohone after 6.30 to 7.30 as this is family time, same ith meals.
    I pretty much agree with you on turning off a mobile too!

  23. 1st July 2010 / 7:21 pm

    I normally check mine at 8.30 before leaving for school so I’m REALLY impressed!

  24. 1st July 2010 / 7:21 pm

    Oh yes, daytime callers. Never anyone you WANT to hear from, is it?

  25. 1st July 2010 / 7:22 pm

    Yes, they have off buttons for a reason 😉

  26. 1st July 2010 / 7:23 pm

    I do not get the cinema thing – people who turn their phones on and check messages make me FURIOUS – the light on the phone is like a little beacon, isn’t it? Argh.

  27. Musings of a Mother
    1st July 2010 / 7:34 pm

    I’m quite like your friend. I’m always guilty of doing this – I rarely answer my phone when people ring preferring to ring them back at another time. I think it’s because my mobile is actually my work phone so I just can’t be arsed talking on the phone in the evenings or at weekends. Well thats my excuse anyway. My husband on the other hand is glued to his phone, he literally cannot miss a call and yes he is one of those rude people that answers in restaurants or when we’re driving along. Drives me nuts!

  28. 3rd July 2010 / 9:54 pm

    I am available 24 hours a day on my mobile, so my teen can contact me if she is in trouble, so my family overseas can get urgent news to me, and yes you can shoot me now, cos with a son with challenging behaviour I leave my mobile on silent in the cinema just in case – and I have had to go home before the film ended – but not before eating the Ben & Jerrys lol. But like you i don’t answer the home phone after 10 pm.

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