Give yourself something Nice this Christmas

There are many things my Mammy does which cause me mystification. Only today she was sorting the 18 identical white milk jugs which live in the back of the plates cupboard and putting them in a different cupboard. I didn’t ask her why she was bothering because I know from long experience she would have claimed she wanted everything to be sorted out “for Christmas.” I’m not convinced the 18 identical white milk jugs care which cupboard they spend the yuletide in but who am I to question the logical workings of Mammy’s head? Much less to ask her why she isn’t doing something that would actually prove useful and give me one less task to complete; putting the sofa covers in the washing machine for instance.

One thing in particular which causes total mystification is her habit of repeatedly leaving messages on other people’s answer phones.

I’ve never fully accepted the answer phone as a gadget which can be usefully inserted into my everyday life. Although I have one, more often than not unanswered calls get shunted to the mysterious Eircom mailbox which I haven’t set up to receive messages because I am unwilling to crowd my brain with the superfluous knowledge of how to do so. I have an answer phone which will do the job for free. In any case, my telephone is supplied by BT, not Eircom, hence the mysteriousness.
When I do receive a message it is usually delivered at speed and so garbled I am unable to tell whether I am being invited to join a civil war re-enactment society or sternly told to renew my car insurance. I don’t really want to set up devices to enable more confusion to be delivered into my life.

Mammy seems to enjoy leaving messages for people. When I was a student, I would regularly arrive home to find two messages from her on my answer phone, the second of which would be “I’ve just left a message on your mobile as well because you’re still not answering.” I never had the heart to tell her how irritating it was.
For all I know she believes that if you are away from your phone and a message is left for you, a bell will go off in your head and you will instantly become compelled to run to the phone, hear the message and return the call that instant. Then again, maybe that is how things are and I’ve just been left out of the loop.

Now that everybody has a mobile phone of course, we can all be instantly accessible to everybody else.
Let’s play a little game. I bet you the junk on the left hand side of my desk (a number of free DVDs from the half tree that is the Sunday papers and a comedy pen in the shape of a fish) that the first thing you do when you get back to your desk, car, wherever, is check your mobile phone for missed calls or received texts. I will also bet you the junk on the right hand side of my desk (a beetroot jar of miscellaneous screws and my last phone bill) that when you receive a text on your phone you immediately read it and reply to it even if you are in conversation with a person who is standing directly in front of you.
Worse is when you pick up the phone and a voice tells you they had a missed call from your number. Is everybody seized of a fear that something is happening they aren’t a part of? Do they not understand that if I care, I will ring them back at another time? It is forgivable in plumbers and the like because it is a business but the rest of you might like to reconsider before making that call.
I once received a phone call at 11:30pm on a Sunday evening from a woman who said she’d had a missed call from my number. I explained there must have been a mistake because I hadn’t made any calls that evening. She replied it had been from Saturday morning. I was too bewildered and frightened to shout at her, but at least I now know there are two kinds of phone calls which arrive without warning at unsociable hours.

It is all the fault of the interweb of course. Just about anybody can become a feature columnist and amass a following in Utah. When you are spewing drivel into the ether, it is easy to believe you are somebody jolly important who should definitely respond to all text messages the moment you receive them because otherwise society will collapse. Don’t even get me started on Twitter.

How about this instead? Why not give yourself the gift of unavailability?

I dare you all to try it. Learn to not check your phone until you are ready to. If you are in the middle of something and it rings, ignore it. It’s okay to do that, really it is.
We’ve become so obsessed as a society, maybe it’s time we all understood that missing a phone call isn’t going to cause terrible things to happen. If somebody can’t get hold of you, it isn’t a disaster. They will catch up with you later. Nothing is that important that it will irretrievably collapse because you failed to answer your phone or respond to a text the moment you received it.

Unless you’re waiting on a new kidney. Then it’s probably important.

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