For far too long there has been a conundrum desperately in need of solution. New technology always spurs new social convention; the use of caller ID and the dissemination of cell phones have created such a vexing question–who calls back?
We’ve all been there. You call another person’s cellphone, and it goes straight to voicemail. Is the phone off, or is the other person trying to call me at the exact same time? How can I ever know for sure? This problem is particularly tough after dropped calls.
It is now time to set firm, albeit arbitrary, rules to ensure we all avoid the dreaded cross-callbacks, in which no one gets through. There are several criteria by which we determined this social convention.
- Call priority should not be linked to any physical or racial trait that would tend to discriminate. For example, if the tallest person is always the callback initiator, women will be disproportionally subjected to always be on the receiving end.
- Call priority should be easy to discern without ever having met in person. As with the first example, it is too hard to decide who the taller person would be, especially if the parties have never met.
- Call priority should not be based on obscure personal arcana. Two people who are in contact for the first time through this phone call should be able to determine the criterion immediately without delving into each other’s personal lives. Hence, the callback convention cannot be something like mother’s maiden name. This is not a forgotten password retrieval mechanism.
- Call priority should be as universal as possible. This rule is flexible, as it is premised on a universal society, which is certainly not true. Maybe a convention that covers most people within the same social group would be sufficient.
We now propose several possible metrics to determine call priority:
This is the most common mechanism to sort people. Ideally, both parties will have each other’s full names and will be able to determine priority by last name, then first. This convention is most restricted by limited information. But if each person only knows first names, it is fine to alphabetize just based on that. And if someone is calling you anonymously, are you really so eager to call them back? Alphabetical order is limited by the last of the criteria though. Non-phonetic languages will have a difficult time following this system. Also, don’t ever call anybody that has your exact same name. They shouldn’t be your friend.
Numerical Order by Phone Number
Bigger number wins. Take your ten-digit phone number and compare. In many cases, callers will be from the same area code, so it’ll come to the seven-digit showdown. Major problem: blocked and restricted numbers ruin all the fun.
West-to-East Geographical Priority
First, I’ll say that I picked West somewhat arbitrarily. This is not any endorsement of the West over the East, I just read from left to right. In fact, the sun seems to favor the East more anyway. Alas, even with the proliferation of geotagging and Foursquare, you’ll rarely know enough about a caller’s physical location to use this metric. And if one day we can determine this readily, it’s time to move off the grid altogether and run from Big Brother.
Initiator Always Calls Back
I almost think this has already been the de facto standard. The person who calls usually has the most to say. Therefore, the logical progression would be that said person should also take all means to reestablish that connection. This would not work however, when two people call at exactly the same time. But how often does that actually occur?