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Thank you for listening.

September 4, 2012

“Please enjoy this ring-back tone while your party is reached …”


Silence would be better, but silence is not an option in our society. So I try to understand why this particular “ring-back tone” was picked by the phone owner.

Right now, I hesitate typing the phrase “ring-back tone.” It makes no sense. But I think those are the correct words carved into my brain countless times.

“At the tone, please record your message. When you are finished recording, you may hang up or press one for More! Options!” Yay!

“To leave a call-back number, press five …”

Now and then, or maybe it’s every day, we have cell phone issues in the library.

Only rarely does it seem that a cell phone user carries on a conversation fully aware he or she is disturbing others. Most of the time, the conversation is merely a Pavlovian response to a ring tone.

The phone rings and one responds; one’s mind ceases to present in the library. Only rarely do I a carry a cell phone, but I know the experience of receiving a call while walking along F Street and finding myself a block along without memory of passing anyone or anything.

In one way, this is good, because after all what’s the point of talking on the phone if you’re not going to pay attention?

However, for this reason, it would seem good to pause and consider how to take a call before doing so: end the conversation with your present companion first, pull off the road, leave the quiet library room in which you have been resident.

For those of you familiar with the remodeled computer room in the half-basement of the old Carnegie building, you may have noticed the space has an echoey quality, more than we ever perceived before.

And so conversations have a larger-than-life effect. We are looking into sound dampening options, which should greatly improve the space.

Cell phone conversations are especially disturbing there because they are not modulated to fit the space in which one is sitting. Cell phone conversations happen elsewhere in the mind. People simultaneously working on a computer and talking on a phone tend to be oblivious of others.

For the staff, perhaps the largest burden of cell phones, and phones in general, comes from the canned messages in voice mail. “No one is available to take your call. At the tone, you may record your message. When you are finished recording, you may hang up or press one for More! Options!”

Yay! More options! “To leave a call-back number, press five now.” Yet another option, and all this after hearing a personally recorded message, as well. It would be great if we could push a button and bypass each message. If you know how, please let us know.

Otherwise, if you have control of your voice mail message, you can help a great many people by making your message brief.

“Hi, this is Bob. Please leave a message.” Beep. Everyone will understand the beep. Anyone who has to leave a lot of messages saying your book has arrived or your doctor appointment is tomorrow will greatly appreciate brevity.

I think most people don’t really consider the message on their phone. They never have to listen to it. Same thing for people talking on the phone in a quiet public place: they don’t have to hear themselves. But others do.

Thank you for listening.


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