After WhatsApp forced their blue tick read message report on us yesterday, I think it’s time we had a talk about cellphones and expectation. We need to take things back a few steps, because we’re currently in a very unhealthy space when it comes to social pressure to be available, and what is now considered polite phone etiquette. Forget the device functions, the extras and apps. Those all come second to the primary reason people got cellphones in the first place, or my primary reason at least. I got a cellphone so that I would be able to reach people when I wanted, at my convenience. Second to that, so people could reach me. And thirdly, for that game Snake. I most certainly did not get a cellphone to be contactable 24/7, or feel guilted into replying to every message anyone sends me as soon as I receive it. Somewhere along the line having a cellphone became all about the person trying to get hold of you.
When I think back to my earliest memories of a phone, the telephone, I distinctly remember occasions when my folks would leave it to ring, and tell us kids to leave it to ring, because we were busy eating dinner, or watching Open Time, or it was a Sunday, or after 5pm, or Mother was avoiding an in-law. Back then my folks didn’t need an excuse to let the phone ring. If they didn’t feel like answering it, they didn’t.
No one got angry with them or sulky or thought less of their friendship, because that’s how things worked back then. Every one did it. Then we got an answering machine and the phone could be ignored more often. Still, no one got bleak. There was no social pressure to be available all the time. Then cellphones came along, and just because the callers name comes up, and the phone is presumably on you, people started getting precious about being ignored. People started taking it personally. Just because I see your name on my screen though, doesn’t mean I’m not busy, or preoccupied, or just not in the mood to discuss whatever it is I know you’re going to want to discuss. The situations haven’t changed, just the devices.
I’m often berated for my bad communication skills, mostly not answering calls. I’ll admit, I’m not the best, but it is up to me to decide if I want to pick up the phone and speak to whoever is calling. I do not carry my phone in my pocket everywhere I go so that someone can insert themselves into my life whenever they feel the urge.
If anything, ignoring calls nowadays is far more polite then when my folks used to do it. If you call someone and they don’t answer, you have a variety of other ways to contact them. Whataspp, email, direct message, Instagram direct message, Facebook wall, Facebook message, the options are near endless. So why is it less polite to screen calls or reply late than it was back in the day? It isn’t. We just let ourselves get here.
We’re caught up in an almost competitive cycle of oversharing. The extent of my communication back in the day was calling a friend after school and talking about the girls we’d probably never hook up with. Then there was radio silence until school the next day. Now there’s Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp groups, email, SnapChat, Tinder, and a hundred more excuses to talk. We’re constantly communicating, with almost no break. We talk for the sake of it, and when people don’t want to talk back, we feel offended – with no consideration for what’s happening on the other end of the line.
WhatsApps addition of the blue tick is just one more invasion of my privacy, and yours. We need to adopt the old school way of thinking again. Sure, you may find it annoying if you try call a friend and they don’t answer, unless you have arranged a phone call for a certain time though, you have no right to be. You don’t know what is happening on the other end of the line, or where the person is – and if you do, thanks to the various other social platforms and your stalker tendencies, it still doesn’t matter. Do not guilt people into communicating with you. Their time is their own.
It’s time we learnt a lesson from the folks. Take back your phone. Take back your privacy. Silence that call and let the blue tick linger. The person on the other end will be fine. Unless it’s an emergency, in which case you’re a bad friend.