Róisín Ingle on . . . mobile phone etiquette


In the last few weeks I’ve been informed by text of the exact time I’m expected to pick a teenage girl up from hockey practice, the location of a posh party I’m apparently invited to and news about someone’s mother who has been worried about the possibility of a hurricane hitting this island. The messages sit there in my inbox until the sender realises their mistake at which point my phone pings again with: “Argh! Sorry! That was meant for someone else!”

I always laugh when filling out forms at that part where they ask you for a landline number. I mean I have one, but I just don’t know what it is. And if the landline ever rings, which it rarely does, I never answer it. I just think: “Who would be ringing me on that thing?” and carry on about my business. Landlines seem curiously quaint and pointless and more to the point safe compared to the mobile phone. Especially when you consider all those accidental text messages.

I’d love to be smug when I get these texts but I can’t because I am also in the regular habit of accidentally sending them to the wrong people. In the past few weeks I’ve invited someone I barely know to a gathering at my home, commiserated with someone who doesn’t have a partner over their partner’s serious illness, asked a person who doesn’t have an allotment if they have any spare beetroot going in their allotment and texted a doctor I’ve spoken to once to ask “can I come and see you today? I’d really like to! xxx”.

“Argh! That was meant for someone else, Doctor,” I then texted mortified. “No probs,” the good doctor answered unperturbed, so common are these slips of the finger across smart phone screens these days.

People also keep accidentally calling me which can sometimes be an altogether more serious matter and another thing that wouldn’t happen with a landline. And while I’d really like to be the kind of person who, when they realise somebody has phoned them by mistake, will immediately end the call not wishing to overhear anything they shouldn’t, I am not that kind of person.

When this sort of thing happens to me I get the kind of thrill I used to get from placing bets on greyhounds. (A brief and I don’t mind admitting often enjoyable phase of my youth). The accidental call doesn’t even have to be interesting. Even if the person who has phoned me by mistake is just at the supermarket till and all I can hear is the ‘beep, beep’ of their shopping as it passes under the scanner, I wait. Because I there is a chance that at any point I might hear Something Amazing.

The phone rang recently and it was a member of my family. I soon deduced they had phoned me by mistake because when I shouted their name loudly down the phone, they carried on talking to another member of my family who was talking about me in what I could diplomatically call a deeply uncomplimentary manner.

Naturally I found myself a nice comfy chair and settled in for a while.

No need to go into what they were saying. The interesting thing is that even though I was being maligned I still didn’t want to put down the phone. It was like a portal into another universe, a place I never wanted to leave. I mean I knew that person was annoyed by that thing I did, but was it really that bad? Apparently so. And they hadn’t even got started. I put the phone on speaker and got some popcorn.

We all say things we would hate to be overheard. I know I must have friends who, because my phone rang them accidentally from my pocket, have overheard me at various times being a complete wagon to my boyfriend or speaking to my chilcdren in a voice Super Nanny would not approve of. Unlike in the case of the mistaken text message – “Argh! Sorry!” – the unspoken rule in this case is that the earwiggers never let on. We shouldn’t have been listening in the first place so we are hardly in a position to ring up and tell the other person what we have just heard.

But in this case I did. For the laugh. After about 10 minutes of listening to what a terrible person I was the conversation ended, at which point I immediately rang the person who had rung me accidentally to tell them that I’d been there all along. Listening. And taking copious notes. The silence that followed was one of the most delicious I’ve ever heard. You just don’t get that kind of fun on a landline.


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