The 411

Maxwell Smart on his shoe phone

On a dreary winter day in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell, experimenting with a newly patented voice transmission device in his laboratory, called out to his assistant in the next room: Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.

There was no reply. But seconds later Bell would hear emerging from his invention the sound that would forever change communication in the world: You have reached the desk of Thomas Watson. I am not here right now, but if you will leave your name, number, and a brief message I will get back to you.

Regrettably for Watson, he never got the message because he only responded to text messages transmitted by telegraph.

Bell, on the other hand, went on to start one of the largest monopolies in American history.

OK, that’s not the way it really happened, but well over a century later we still have text messaging and the traditional telephone, as we know it, seems to be going the way of the dinosaur.

Or, given the pace of technology, maybe it is going the way of the Blackberry.

Nowadays the ubiquitous Smartphone is a technological Swiss Army Knife of communication applications in which the actual phone part is sometimes hard to find.

As I observe my kids work the world with their flash fingers on small wireless devices they can shove in their pockets, it occurs to me that they have very little actual experience talking on the phone. Like many kids their age, they prefer to communicate in short text bursts rather than waste their time in blind conversation.

So as a service to kids, particularly mine, who have no idea how to negotiate the antiquated art of telephone communication, I offer the following:

Ten Telephone Tips for Texters

1. When someone calls you on the phone, it is appropriate to acknowledge that you have received the call. Most people answer their phones by saying something simple, like hello.

2 ABC. On those rare occasions when you are motivated to initiate a call, it is nice to introduce yourself first, before, say, you demand to know where I am and when exactly I will be available for your bidding. I’m just saying.

Also, I have to make this quick because my phone might die is not a great way to start a conversation. Try keeping your phone charged.

3 DEF. With today’s technology, unique ring tones can be programmed into the phone and associated with specific caller IDs so that you may identify and greet your frequent callers with polite familiarity.

However I would appreciate it if you would disassociate Darth Vader’s Imperial Death March from my number and not roll your eyes whenever it chimes.

4 GHI. There is a really cool App available for smartphones that allows callers to record important information if you are not able to answer your phone. It is called voicemail. You might want to check it out sometime.

I bet you will find lots of really important messages. From me.

5 JKL. Remember when you learned at meals not to talk with your mouth full? The same applies when using the telephone. And when I ask you to repeat something because I can’t make out what you are saying, it is not because my phone is a malfunctioning hearing aid.

Please don’t yell. It hurts my eardrums.

6 MNO. In general, it is considered bad manners to have a simultaneous conversation with friends while you are talking with someone over the phone. It makes the caller feel like you are not interested in what they have to say.

This is especially true when the caller is me.

7 PQRS. Be respectful of other people and your caller when you are having private conversations in public. And never put the phone on speaker when you are in inappropriate places.

Like in the bathroom.

8 TUV. Sometimes interruptions occur and you may need to put the caller briefly on hold. So when you ask me to “wait a sec” while you do whatever it is you do that is so important, please keep in mind that I am still on the phone and can hear you long after you have forgotten me and returned your phone to your pocket.

9 WXYZ. Cell coverage these days is pretty darn good. Still, sometimes calls will inexplicably drop. When that happens, please answer your phone when I call back. You do not live in a concrete bunker in Antarctica.

Not yet anyway.

0 Operator. Don’t take my phone when I am not looking and change the background screen without my knowledge. And how did you get that really embarrassing picture of me picking my nose anyway and why am I all of a sudden getting all these messages from Facebook and Instagram?

And what are all these electronic receipts from iTunes and Amazon?

Mr. Watson, come here. I need you!