AUGUST 3, 1962
NEW YORK—Someone has asked me to write a column on the use of the telephone, and the only reason I can think of for choosing me is because I am the world's most reluctant telephone user. When I must make a call, I like to say what I need to say and hang up, hardly giving the other person time to respond. In fact, some of my friends have a feeling that I am not interested in their response but only want to get across what is in my mind and be done with it, which is not far from the truth.
I realize, however, that there are many aspects one must consider in relation to the telephone. I can remember, when I was a young girl, long dissertations on the poor lonely farmer's wife, cut off without any transportation from her nearest neighbor and sometimes spending the long winter with no chance to speak to anyone. The rural telephone, bad as the party line was, did away with much of the loneliness. To be sure, it made of many of our rural people very excellent gossips, but that again was forgiveable under the circumstances.
Today there is the universal problem in growing families of trying to reserve certain hours of the day exclusively for the use of older or younger members. This is difficult when very likely the same hours desired by the youngsters would also be convenient for the mother and father. Hence there has to be some kind of agreement on a division between ages, because you begin to use the telephone now almost before you can talk—and find yourself calling grandmother and grandfather, who greet you as a most remarkable child! If they were only wise enough, they would have put off the dreadful day as long as possible!
There is a difference, too, between business and social calls. I think I am right in feeling that a business call should be prefaced by the request: "Are you free to talk to me at the present time?" If the answer is yes, you go right ahead with your business. If the answer is no, then you had better accept that and remember to call back at whatever time is suggested, because you are the one who is asking the favor.
Some people have an enraging habit of calling at the hour they think is your lunch or dinner time in the hope that they will surely catch you or your secretary at home. This means that one or the other gets up from the table and answers the telephone. It is not a very considerate thing to do, and I think that certainly business calls should be completely cut out at that time. When you do get your business executive, don't take it for granted that he has only you waiting to talk with at a given moment. He probably has a dozen people who think their business is just as important as yours. If he is a congenial person, he will start off warmly; but, believe me, it will wear off quickly unless you get down to telling him what you want and going on with your other business.
Most of your social calls, if you are a man in the business world, can probably be treated very much like business calls. If it is something which you can get through quickly, then do so. Don't take it for granted that because a gentleman or woman called to invite you to lunch or dinner or to ask you a question about some specific subject, that they wish to have a social chat. You should not meander around and talk about the latest happenings in the world as a whole, unless you happen to know that your friend is interested in these particular events.
Then there are of course wonderful people who feel they must never trespass on the boss's time but have no feeling at all about the secretary's time, forgetting that in the long run it is the boss's work that is being neglected. I mention this because I know many perfectly delightful secretaries whose lives are made almost a nightmare as they try to go on with their work while at the same time listening with one ear to a long dissertation which is not important to anyone and which could be handled just as well by a note or a telephone call taking exactly one minute.
I realize I have left out completely the normal desire of women, both young and old, who love to talk for indefinite periods of time with family and friends, discussing every topic that has come up. But I seriously question if this was what the telephone was intended for. We had better go back to the art of letter writing. We will have to re-learn that beautiful handwriting which used to be in style or we will have to learn to use the typewriter. Even some of us older people may have to learn to type too, particularly if, as they grow older, they grow so shaky that their writing looks as if a fly had crossed the page!