I have been hesitating to write this out but this week a polite, hard-working team of customer service agents has convinced me that it is necessary.
I have only one mobile phone number. It is 0792 800080.
I am not afraid to give it to you because I am not a slave to the phone any more. By that, I mean that your calling me does not translate into my answering the phone, and my missing your call does not constitute an agreement of any kind that I must call you back.
This works much the same way you have no guarantee that you will see me or hold a meeting with me if you suddenly show up at my front door (office or home). I might not be in; or I might be in and in an earlier meeting; or in the toilet…
In the same spirit, when you send me an SMS or any other type of text message, it is not the same as the two of us signing a contract.
You cannot demand my presence somewhere just because you have organised a wedding meeting and notified me of this achievement by SMS.
There is a protocol to all of this that, put together, one can call etiquette.
Sadly for people like me, it does not apply to every single person in one’s social circles, and so there are those people who in spite of years of deliberate conditioning will continue to break the rules.
Or they try to: they create missed call notifications on my phone before 0800hrs and after 2100hrs, send random once-in-four-to-six-months text messages asking for loose money, and insist on believing that I can actually make employment happen for people strictly on the strength of my knowing their (caller or caller’s relative) name.
It took me a while to get to this point. At one stage in my life I had four cellular numbers and walked around with five mobile phones. Plus, I spent quite a lot of energy getting my phone numbers synchronised and keeping all phones charged at all times.
Now I have only one number and one phone (which I still struggle to keep charged) and I try not to suffer the mobile phone anxiety that once had me operating life on the basis of how much my phone was charged or its proximity to either of my hands.
I do not answer each and every single phone call that makes it through to my phone handset, and I rarely risk life by operating the phone while driving, in the bath, lighting sigiris, etc.
And I no longer feel anything for the whining declaration: “But I called you!”
I may not respond with a snide remark, but I do spend time teaching people the use of SMS to relay the message for which the failed phone call had been made; plus stressing how much cheaper, shorter and more convenient that mode of communication is.
Most failed callers also don’t realise that they themselves are at fault when they call and don’t get through a couple of times then wait a week or a month to raise a complaint.
The polite, hard-working team of customer service agents who have brought on these revelations was doing a good job but broke a rule of mine that I had officially told their company about. When they first called me months ago I informed them that I preferred to provide customer feedback by email or SMS rather than over the phone. I asked them to note that in their system so that I would never receive another phone call – though I was grateful that they were good enough to make calls.
On Wednesday, they called me up again, and I patiently but firmly told the lady caller to please update the system to reflect my preference – and she politely agreed. Twenty minutes later, her colleague called me up and I lost all patience.
I know THEY won’t be calling me again.
This is not arrogance or haughtiness, as I’ve explained to many other friends, contacts and clients. Phone calls are appropriate for certain types of communication and should be used only on occasion.
When a very close relative (very close!) suffers a puncture by the side of a dark road in the middle of the night and can’t reach their spouse or closer relative, I can understand the need for them to call someone for help with the number of a mechanic and whatnot. To send an SMS, email or WhatsApp in that situation is plain stupid unless one is simply logging the information for later use, rather than seeking urgent, immediate intervention.
To establish whether I am happy about one’s services, an email works much better for me.
The thing with most callers, I find, is that they expect you to drop what you are doing to attend to the call – which you sometimes practically can’t. It’s the equivalent of someone stopping you on the street for a conversation as you rushing to a meeting/the toilet/your childrens school.
On my phone, I exercise the same rights I have to continue walking to the meeting/toilet/shopping mission/etc, when you bump into me on Kampala Road or Hoima Main Street.
Technically, I also prefer emails and texts because those allow me to keep a record of what I am saying or doing, much better than my memory of a phone conversation ever could – (not only because most callers are so boring the conversation is rarely memorable).
And, most of all, I can park an email or text and handle it when it’s appropriate after wrapping my mind around whatever issue needs sorting. Whereas there are phonecalls that dissipate into thin air the moment one hangs up because the next, more urgent phone call fills up the action space.
I laugh when I recall trying to concentrate scarce energy and focus to tackle complicated topics at the buzz of the phone.
Of course if Charles Mbire, Sudhir, Patrick Bitature or Theo Paphitis called me up at ANY time of night or day, I would immediately sit up and focus.
But Uncle Jackson Kewerimidde of Kabulasoke dialling to ask me “Wama how much do you think we should spend on drinks for the party in three months’ time? And do you think we should slaughter a whole cow or just buy goat’s meat by the kilo…?”
Especially if I am standing at the front of a press conference at UBC or in the middle of a face-to-face conversation with *anybody* (insert any name there).
And that rule of face-to-face is extremely important – a bird in the hand is worth two on the phone.
So, short re-cap: my number is as above. My email address is as below. Use the latter, not the former – unless your conversational abilities are stronger than my preference for texts.