Growing up I often heard “Stay off the phone, I’m waiting for a call from…” This might be referring to my father, the doctor, the pharmacy or another adult. At any rate, the person demanding that we stay off the phone was my mother.Apparently if one of those people heard a busy signal(the sound a phone used to send to the caller if someone was talking on it) that person would NEVER CALL BACK. A life or death sense seemed implied by this information. So we stayed off the phone.
Somewhere in the last twenty years or so the telephone company came up with added features. Of course they also increased the cost of phone service. One of these features was “call waiting.” While you were talking to someone a loud buzzer would alert you that someone else was trying to reach you. Now we had an etiquette challenge. What were we supposed to do with this buzzer? An eventual solution was to state if we were waiting for a call from a spouse, a doctor or a pharmacy and “switch over” to the other call. Otherwise it was very poor form to go see who else was calling, implying whoever it was might be more important than the present caller. It took a while and a few bruised feelings to come up with this behavior.
The latest feature is “call waiting caller id.” This allows you to hear the buzzer, check to see who else is calling(all the while trying to keep up with your present conversation) and decide what to do. Present etiquette seems to suggest it is permissible to “switch over” for a spouse, a doctor or a pharmacy. Otherwise it is polite to ignore the second call. Sadly, in the case of our phone service, the other person keeps hearing the phone ring until they hang up, never knowing why it wasn’t answered.
I guess this is an advancement in waiting for phone calls. But it sure has forced me to invent new social skills. It was easier when all I had to do was “Stay off the phone.”