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By Joel Klebanoff

Call Not Waiting

I don't have call waiting. I used to. I don't now. Why is not really important or especially interesting, but if I don't tell you why then this is going to be the shortest column I've ever written. Advertisers might get upset about that because the two ads that normally appear in this space would have to overlap, one partially blocking the other. I love the companies that advertise here, and I wouldn't want to do anything to displease them. They (and, of course, the people who buy my book, BYTE-ing Satire) are all truly deserving of our deepest love and respect. And it's not just because advertisers provide the money that makes it possible for MC Press to run these columns and pay me a few bucks to write them. Oh no, I wouldn't be so crass, although I have to admit that might have influenced my thinking just a teensy bit. So please permit me to explain why I no longer have call waiting.

As I said, I used to have the service. Then the phone company called to try to convince me to subscribe to additional services. I said no. They called again. I said no again. They called again. After I said no once more, I added, "Oh, by the way, not only am I not interested in adding any new services, but if you call me again, the next time not only will I reject your suggestion to subscribe to other services, but I'm also going to cancel one I already have." They called again. I don't have call waiting.

In truth, I'd been considering canceling call waiting for some time. When you put someone on hold to take another call, you are basically telling the first person, "Please sit there for an indeterminate length of time twiddling your thumbs, picking your nose, digging out the gunk from between your toes, or doing whatever else you normally do to fill in any empty moments in your day while I find out if somebody more worthy than you is calling me." That's rude. That's just plain rude.

Of course, that's not what you're saying to the other person if you have caller ID. Then, you know who is on the other line. In that case, what you're saying to the first caller is, in effect, "Hey, you insignificant little twerp, sit there and do whatever for a while because I know that someone who I'd much rather talk to is calling me." That's rude to the tenth power.

My desire not to be offensive meant that I never answered calls that were waiting. So what was the point of the service? Of course, my failure to pick up waiting calls might have been due less to my politeness than to the fact that it's extremely rare for even one person, other than a telemarketer, to want to talk to me. When two simultaneous calls come in it's time to notify the Guinness World Records people.

In the exceptional circumstance when a second call does come in while I'm talking to someone, I'm not worried about missing an important or interesting call. I subscribe to the phone company's voicemail service. (At least, I do until the next time Ma Bell calls to try to sell me something.) Incoming calls are immediately routed to my voice mailbox when my line is busy. If people really want to get in touch with me while I'm on the phone, they can leave a message. The only people who refuse to leave messages are my mother and telemarketers. My mother will keep calling, repeatedly and in an increasingly panicked state, until she finally reaches me. She's very persistent and neurotic that way. (I'm convinced that neuroticism is hereditary.)

As to telemarketers, well, let's just say that the uncouth word that I'd like to add between "how" and "happy" in the sentence "I can't begin to tell you how happy I am that they didn't reach me" would be censored before you saw it. For all you know, it was.

Just as an aside, while we're talking about rudeness and telemarketers, in case any of them are reading this, here's a politeness tip: If I courteously afford you the time necessary to make your pitch and, when you're done, I say, "I'm sorry, but I'm not interested," a proper response is, "I'm sorry to have bothered you. Thanks for your time. Goodbye." An improper response is anything that begins with words to the effect of, "Yes, but ..." I know you have a job to do and you're trying to put bread and possibly a few other staples on the table and elsewhere, but I have a life to live. Empty though that life may be, I'd still rather fritter it away doing something else—anything else—rather than spending one more second listening to you drone on.

Getting back to the original subject, the rudeness of call waiting, putting people on hold to take another call is, of course, not the only or even the worst discourtesy that our technologies allow us to inflict on others. I could rant on endlessly about the unbelievably impudent jerks (that's not the term I want to use for them, but MC Press won't allow me to employ my preferred word here) who are so feeble-minded, weak-willed, or just incredibly offensive that they can't or won't stop shouting into their cell phones in the middle of a public space where other, much more well-mannered people are trying to enjoy quiet conversations. However, too many people, me included, have already loudly issued those complaints for me to be so redundant as to repeat them here. Oops, too late. I just did.

And has this ever happened to you? You're sitting somewhere having a pleasant discussion with a friend, relative, colleague, or some innocuous lunatic you met on the street when the other person gets a cell phone call and answers it. Personally, I'd prefer that the phone was switched off or went unanswered, but that's just my preference. Given that it was answered, the polite and proper response is something like, "I'm sorry, but I'm with someone. I'll have to call you back. Goodbye." Instead, he or she spends the next 20 minutes speaking on the phone, seemingly forgetting your very existence. Meanwhile, you employ those 20 minutes to ponder the age-old question: "How many of my companion's bodily orifices can I insert his or her cell phone into if the only tool at my disposal is a particularly large sledge hammer?"

The worst has to be what I like to refer to as a "double axel reverse insolence with a half twist." It's a competition-level maneuver to which the International Barbarian Union has assigned a degree of disrespect of nine. I've described it in past tirades, although not by name. There are variations on this routine, but it generally goes like this: Jim and Betty get together in a romantic little café. Betty's cell phone rings, and she answers it. Jim, believing that he is about to be ignored for a while, takes advantage of the time by using his cell phone to call his buddy. Despite having traveled some distance to meet in person, the two are now disregarding each other in order to talk to two other people who aren't there. The volume of Jim and Betty's voices steadily increases as they each compete to be heard over the other. Eventually, the decibel level rises to the point where the other café patrons spontaneously join together to beat the crap out of the couple. Now, you just know that's a first date that isn't going to go anywhere.

I have to admit that the above paragraph is a work of fiction. I've never actually seen a group of unrelated (or related, for that matter) coffee shop customers band together to physically punish cell phone miscreants, but please allow me my little fantasies.

When you are about to use a piece of communication technology in a public place, here's a little trick you can use to make sure you don't commit a social faux pas. First, ask yourself, "Would I be insulted or upset if someone else did this in my presence?" If the answer is "yes," then you are definitely about to make an ass of yourself. Don't. If the answer is "no," there's still one more test you should apply. Ask yourself, "Would my mother (or, if you're under 25, my grandmother) be insulted or upset if I did this in her presence?" If the answer is "yes," again, restrain your technology-enabled urges. The world will thank you for it; if not the whole world, then at least me.

This article originally appeared as part of a weekly series of "Tech Tirades" in MC TNT from MC Press Online. The first year's worth of Tech Tirades does not appear here. Instead, you can find them in BYTE-ing Satire.

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