Speaking on the phone
Maintaining human contact
Speaking on the phone
Maintaining human contact
The Oxfam secondhand bookshop in London’s Portobello Road is one of my favourite haunts. It has a great stock of books on a variety of topics and the people who work there are very friendly.
Recently, I entered the shop ad headed towards the ‘History’ shelves. Near them, there was a male customer speaking with a female shop assistant. They were standing next to a cardboard box filled with dictionaries.
“Which of these dictionaries do you reccommend?” the customer asked, “the Collins or the Oxford?”
“It’s a a matter of taste. Both are good.”
“But which do you prefer?” asked the customer.
“I prefer Oxford.”
“I have always used Oxford. I like its approach to spelling. I used it a lot when I used to work in a publishing house,” responded the lady, edging away to escape her persistent questioner. He turned to me.
“Which do you prefer?” he asked me.
“And why do prefer that?”
“No good reason, ” I replied,”it was the first dictionary we were given at school. Maybe, that’s something to do with my preference.”
“And which authors do you think are good?” he asked me, adding, “I have just given away my television.”
I could not reccommend the books I have written, as that would be immodest and likely to prolong this conversation.
“Thomas Love Peacock,” was the first author’s name that entered my head.
“You could also try John Buchan. You know the chap who wrote the Thirty-Nine Steps,” I suggested.
“Never heard of him.”
“Balzac is also good in translation,” I added.
“Hmm. What about this one?” the customer asked me, holding a novel by George Orwell.
“He’s also good.”
At that point, I was ‘saved by the bell’. My fellow customer’s mobile ‘phone began ringing at a very high volume. It sounded as if a fire alarm had gone off. He rushed out of the shop.
I went to the cash desk to pay for my latest purchase. When I had finished, my new acquaintance came back into the shop, and said to me:
“Sorry about that. You are real gent. It was nice talking with you.”
I left the shop and will probably not visit again for a long time as viral considerations are forcing it to close indefinitely.
When I first became aware of public telephone boxes – that would have been in the early 1960s – they operated as follows. The caller first inserted a suitable number of coins, and then dialled. If the call was answered, the caller had to press a button marked ‘A’ in order to continue the call. By pressing this button, the inserted coins moved into the cash box. If, on the other hand, the recipient of the call did not answer or was busy on another call, the caller had to press button ‘B’. By doing so, the inserted coins were returned.
The A and B call boxes were later replaced by another system. The caller dialled the number. If it was answered, the caller heard a series of beeps. At this point, the caller had to insert money in order to remain connected. Many years after this newer system was installed, my father used to yell down the ‘phone:
“Press button ‘A'”
He did this despite the fact that button ‘A’ no longer existed.
Today, with the advent of mobile telephones, mastering the intricacies of operating public telephone boxes has become almost unneccessary.
When I first qualified as a dentist and went into practice in 1982, nobody possessed mobile telephones (cell-phones). By the time I retired in 2017, practically all of my patients, even some of the children, carried and used these ‘phones. Believe it or not, my patients often tried using their ‘phones during my appointments.
It was very annoying and ruinous for concentration when a patient stopped me in the midst of performing a delicate operation in his or her mouth in order to answer the ‘phone. Some patients even attempted speaking on their mobiles when their mouths were full of impression materials.
One day, I met my next patient at the reception desk. He had arrived punctually, but had his ‘phone up to his ear. He smiled at me, and then said:
“Give me a minute, I am in the middle of a telephone interview for a job.”
“Ok,” I replied, “come into my surgery when you are finished.”
Ten minutes of his half an hour appointment passed, then fifteen, and then twenty…
At the end of half an hour, I returned to the reception desk. My patient laid down his ‘phone, smiled, and said:
“I’m ready now. My interview is over.”
“So is your dental appointment. You had better book another one another day.”
Even more annoying were those who insisted on asking me a question and then, instead of listening to my reply, began sending SMS messages. I recall one lady, who had very complex dental problems, which required much explanation of treatment options before I could proceed any further with helping her. Did she listen to me? Oh, no she did not. For half an hour, she sent a series of SMS messages whilst I spoke. At the end of her appointment, she asked me to repeat what I had been telling her because she had had to send a series of “very important” messages. After that experience, I put up a notice in my surgery, forbidding the use of mobile ‘phones. It was a successful move. Patients would reach for their ‘phones, and then my assistant or I would point at the notice. The patient would then apologise, and turn off the ‘phone.
Eyes glued to screens
On tablets and phones:
Absorbed, alone with their egos