April 07, 2006

Call Waiting Sucks

How would you feel in this following scenario? Suppose you are having a face to face conversation with someone, and someone else comes up and horns in on your conversation. He starts talking to the person who you were talking with, without asking your permission, and the person you are talking with says to you "give me just a minute with this guy," and then spends 20 minutes with the interruptor while you stand there.

My call waiting experiences are often the electronic equivalent of this scene. I'm going to go on a short rant, but it has been brewing for a while. I do not have call waiting on my home phone. I do have call waiting on my cell phone, and I've probably been guilty of the following behavior once in a while myself, so I do not exonerate myself from my own wrath. However, I find it singularly inappropriate and sometimes rude how people use call waiting on their private line.

Of course, putting people on hold has been a tool for businesses and the bane of callers for some time. We all know how frustrating it can be when we are put on hold, especially when we are trying to conduct some business and we are in a hurry.

So why is it that we do the same thing to our friends?

At least when I call my doctor or dentist and they put me on hold, I know that I am on hold because either a) a person called ahead of me and they are finishing up with them or b) there is an emergency going on and they will get to me after it is over.

Of course, not always are things this easy, but as a general rule, businesses usually take care of the first person who calls, whether it is a small local business or a large faceless corporation -- many times their message as you're holding is something on the order of "your call will be answered in the order in which it was received."

However, us private citizens have it backwards. Often, when I call someone who has call waiting, and I'm talking to them, they will suddenly say "Oh, can you hold on a minute?" I usually say "Sure." I am then parked in electronic limbo, while that person then spends 10 or 15 minutes talking to whomever called on the other line. It doesn't matter that I called first. It doesn't matter that I may take offense to waiting on the line for that long. In the backwards reality of private home usage, I must wait while the second caller gets an uninterrupted phone call. Occasionally, if the call is going to go on for longer, the person might say "Oh, can I call you back? Mike's been sitting on the other line." However, by this time I have most likely been gnashing my teeth in fury, and maybe I have even hung up.

Why do we do this to people, especially our friends? It used to be that if a person called, they would get a busy signal if the person they were calling was on the other line. The busy signal meant, for the second caller, that the person they were calling was busy and that they should wait a little while and call back when the person was, hopefully, free.

I know that call waiting is important in some ways. In the old days, the only way that a caller could notify a person of an emergency if the person they were calling was already on the phone was to have an operator break into the call, terminating the first call and connecting the second caller. Today, if there is an emergency, call waiting can make it possible for the emergency to be communicated quickly without an extra step.

Or if the caller is expecting an important phone call...perhaps Ed McMahon is going to call with news that they've won the sweepstakes...they can get that information quickly.

But when we get down to just everyday conversations, why should I, who called first, have my phone call interrupted and my status pushed down to second priority just because the person I've called has gotten indication that a second caller is trying to reach him/her? Why should I be able to break off someone else's conversation simply because I called second? This is wrong. It is discourteous to me, or to whomever was talking first, to break off the conversation and leave him or her in electronic limbo for 10 or 15 minutes.

Therefore, I am proposing call waiting etiquette 101:

1. If you are talking to someone on the phone, and you have call waiting, and it indicates that someone else is ringing you, you may break off the phone call for a minute to answer the other line.

2. If you do so, you should politely tell the person that a call is coming in and ask if it is okay to break the conversation for a moment. If that person says "no" you should not break the conversation, but simply let the other person ring. Chances are, if you have call waiting, you also have call notes or some kind of answering service and he or she will leave a message.

3. If the first caller says "yes, that's okay" you should only spend a moment with the other person on the line while your first caller is in electronic limbo. Spend enough time to simply get his or her name, how to best reach him or her, and then politely inform him or her that remaining on hold until you finish your first call is an option, or you can call back later. Do not launch into an entire conversation that will leave your first caller, who should be your first priority, in limbo for a long time.

These are just simple things, but it will make the telephoning experience much more pleasant for everyone around, and help to ensure that your first caller feels important enough to you that he or she will not be summarily dismissed simply because a second caller is on the line.

Of course, I would prefer the old fashioned busy signal. Sometimes "advances" in technology are "retreats" in common sense and our notions of acceptable community behavior. Just because technology has made it easier for us to be rude to each other, we don't have to follow its siren call in all cases.

And don't get me started on Caller I.D. That's for a later rant.


Blogger typingelbow said...

I know my Mom feels the same way as you about call waiting. But it really doesn't bother me.... I suppose that I answer the rudeness of call waiting with my own brand of distain: if someone talks too long while they've got me on hold, i just hang up. I don't mean anything rude by it. I just figure they can call me back when their obviously important other call ends.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous The Sister said...

I know you get irritated when I answer my caller ID... but I always tell the second caller that I'm on with my brother in NM and can they please call me back.
And when it is YOU calling as the second caller... I usually end up cutting my firt caller off sooner than I would have in order to call you back sooner.
So see? Sometimes caller ID works to your advantage.

2:49 PM  
Blogger The Movie Guys said...

I still think it's a good invention. The problem with going back to the "busy signal" days is that, back in those days a person was unable to even leave a message if they got a busy signal, which really sucks. Your point about not keeping someone you were already talking to on hold for more than a minute is perfectly valid, but I would never want to give up my ability to notice who's calling me (either from the caller ID on my cell or the voice mail they can leave while I'm on the other line), so that I can find out 1) if it's an emergency and if it's not 2) be able to get their number so I can call back later.

Rarely has anyone made me wait long b/c of call waiting and even so, I'll still take it over busy signals any day of the week.

3:08 PM  
Blogger Mary B. said...

My solution probably makes things worse. If I am left in limbo for too long, I hang up and call the person back. This interupts the conversation that set me in limbo, and effectivly banishes the first rude person to the hell I just escaped. This can get ugly very fast if you hadn't already guessed. :)

3:52 PM  

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