“So, lemme get this straight,” my companion says. “If your phone rings, doesn’t matter where you are, you don’t answer it? Not even if you know who it is?”
“Right,” I reply, “most of the time, anyway. Unless it’s my wife or kids, or grandkids. For them, I always answer.”
We’re walking along the lakefront on a sunny late-afternoon, enjoying the scenery, the other strollers, the kids flashing by on bikes and scooters, the sailboats out on the water. A light breeze keeps us comfortable enough in the heat.
“So, what if it’s an emergency?” my friend asks.
“I figure whoever it is will call right back,” I say, “or leave a voicemail message. Robocalls don’t do that, but people calling in an emergency will. If nobody answers a bot’s call, it just moves on to the next random number.”
“You always check your voicemail?”
“I do,” I say. “Maybe not immediately after the call, but frequently enough.”
“What if it’s a relative or close friend?”
“Same drill,” I tell him. “I mean, I may choose to answer, but it depends on what I’m doing at the time. I figure the phone is my servant, not the other way around. It’s a tool that does its thing when I say so, but I don’t jump to its bidding.”
“Yeah, but it’s not the phone demanding your attention,” my companion protests. “It could be a friend!”
“That’s right,” I nod. “But if another friend called me right now, I wouldn’t ignore you to answer the call. Why should you play second-fiddle when you’re right here with me?”
“Yeah, I can see that,” he concedes, before adding, “So, I imagine you never answer unknown callers, either.”
“Right. Same logic. But if they leave a message, I’ll soon know if I need to return the call or just forget about it.”
“Seems like an imperious attitude to me,” my companion says. “What if everybody did that to you when you’re calling them? How’d you like it?”
“Actually,” I say, “I wouldn’t mind. Far as I’m concerned, it works the same both ways. If my reason for calling is urgent, I’ll leave a voicemail message. If it’s an emergency, I’ll still do that, but I’ll also keep calling—twice, three times, four, one right after the other. I figure in that case, the person I’m calling will realize she or he should answer, that the calls aren’t random.”
“And if they don’t?”
I shrug. “Well, some things are beyond my control,” I say. “The important thing in cases like that is I try to get through and leave a message.”
“Seems like it’d be easier if everybody just answered every call,” my companion says. “That way there’d be no wasted time.”
I shrug again. “Depends, I guess. Some people—like me, for instance—would think answering every call is a waste of time. Every call? C’mon!”
We walk in silence for awhile, pausing to let a flock of geese cross our path on their way from the water to the park lawn.
“So, if I call you, I won’t get an answer, right?” my companion says, still thinking about our conversation. “And then, I hafta leave a message and wait for you to get back to me. But what if I’m the one who’s busy when you do that? Then what?”
“Then I can leave a message for you,” I argue, “which I’d do if my call was important. But if I were just calling to touch base, I might not leave a voicemail at all. No problem. Either way, the ball’s in your court at that point.”
“And this works for you?”
“So far,” I grin, gently edging my friend to one side to let a couple of bicycles flash past, bells ringing loudly.
“Maybe I should give it a try,” he says uncertainly. “I get a lotta calls, and sometimes I really wanta let ‘em go, y’know? You think it could work for me?”
“You won’t know if you don’t try,” I reply. “I had to work at it when I first…”
I’m interrupted by the insistent jangling of my companion’s phone. With a stricken look on his face, he pulls it from his pocket, checks the screen, then puts it to his ear, turning his back as he does so.
I walk on, unperturbed, leaving him in privacy to deal with the call. A hundred metres or so further along, I hear him call my name. Turning, I see him, phone still fixed to his ear, motioning for me to wait.
In response, I put my hand to my own ear, pinkie and thumb cocked in the universal signal for Call me!, then carry on my merry way.
I know I’ll get his message.