I get it. We are all busy, busy, busy. Just like Frosty’s Professor Hinkle. Yet in Hinkle’s day he couldn’t rely on technology to manage his busy-ness. No, sir, in those days people spoke to each other. In person. Or wrote letters. And responded. Lately I’ve been missing those days.
It is truly ironic that modern conveniences like voice mail and email, developed to make us more accessible and efficient, have actually managed to overload us and have given us a way to ignore each other.
Take a moment to think of the past several phone calls you made. How many were answered by a real live person? And, if so, how many were answered by the real live person you really needed to talk to? Not too many? Did you get trapped in a system that asked you to “please listen carefully as our menu options have changed” then sent on a confusing matrix of numbers and recordings? Or were you requested to “please leave a message”? Here’s the kicker – after leaving the message, did anyone call you back?
Over the past two weeks I have left three voice mails for the Case Worker supposedly in charge of the unit my brother lives in, as I have some concerns about him I’d like to discuss with her. Two weeks. Three calls. I have received no return calls or messages. Next, I’ve left two messages in the past couple of days for the Director at the facility, voicing my concerns. Two days. Two calls. No response. It’s not like I’m calling to just chit-chat. I have explained my reason for calling. 5 times. About the well-being of my brother. If they have no good answer for me, then they could at least “hide” by calling me after hours and leaving a message, or send me an email. Because that’s another popular communication tool, avoidance of any in-person interaction whatsoever – aka: hiding.
In a related avoidance topic, last week I had Xrays done due to some ongoing neck pain. The X-ray technicians assured me they would send them right over to my doctor. Silly me, I assumed this meant the doctor would review them and call me with any results. After three days, I called the doctor’s office. After “listening closely because the menu options had changed” I eventually was connected to a nurse. Then put on hold. For about 15 minutes. She then came back, explained it had taken her a while to find the Xrays, then she literally read them over the phone to me. I guess since there was nothing scary to report, the doctor saw no reason to call. Too busy, busy, busy.
There are many things that bother me about T.A. (Technology Avoidance), but one of the biggest issues is that yes, I’m sure the people I’m calling are busy. Well, guess, what, so am I. Yet I’m the one having to find the time to do all of the follow up. And getting no where for my efforts.
My unreturned calls irked me so much that I did a self-assessment of my own reaction times. I thought about a couple of the media sales reps who had called me lately at work and left messages. I had not yet called them back, because I had no new information for them. But after my recent experiences, I thought about how those sales reps are people too, and I reached back out to them – even just to say I had no different answer for them since the last time we talked. But you know what? They appreciated me contacting them. Even though I had no news for them.
I will also be the first to admit that I am way behind in phone calls and outreach to some of my family members and friends. I owe several calls to reconnect. But we are still in at least sporadic touch, thanks to things like Facebook and texting. We may not have had a good ol’ fashion gab session lately, but they know I’m alive and thinking of them, and vice versa. If we need to be in immediate touch, we have several ways to do so.
That brings me to another mind-boggling trap. Email. This morning I was talking to a co-worker (yes, live and in person) and he was sharing how he struggles with how many emails he gets all day, and how he wants to be able to sort and delete them but they are so fast and furious it is a challenge. We both agreed that is a very common issue for those of us who are professionally busy, busy, busy. Sadly, it is fairly easy for an action item via email to get buried or forgotten, or – here we go again – go unanswered. So what can the email sender do? Send another email. Or call and leave a voice mail. And the vicious cycle continues.
Before I headed back to my desk, I said to my co-worker “can you imagine that we actually survived and did our jobs BEFORE email even existed?” He paused and said “Wow. Yeah. How did we do that??”
Resisting the urge to sound like someone’s grandmother, I remember those days. At my first professional job out of college, I had no computer. Only a regular, corded desk phone. And a typewriter. And lots of real humans around me. As a young girl, we had only a couple of corded wall phones at home, and if we called someone and they weren’t available, we either got a busy signal or no answer. So we just had to call back again later. Sure, I suppose back then maybe life wasn’t so urgent. Maybe we weren’t so busy. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that we just were better at planning ahead, and we were a whole lot more patient. And we couldn’t hide and avoid each other – it never really dawned on us to try.
I suppose I can take a page out of my “old days” book and attempt some in-person contact with those who don’t seem able to respond to me. I will take the time out of my schedule to go bouncing off down the hill like good ol’ Professor Hinkle, and hope to get noticed when I show up in person. Which means that I’m sorry, I will be off being too busy, busy, busy to take your call.
Please just leave a message.