Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Wednesday, May 25, 2021

Here’s something I’ve struggled with of late:

When an unattended (i.e., placed on a coffeetable, etc.) mobile phone rings in your presence, and the owner of said phone is out of earshot but only a short distance away, what are you obligated to do:

1. Answer the phone yourself?

2. Yell out to the phone’s owner that someone’s calling?

3. Pick up the ringing phone and walk/run to deliver it to the owner?

4. Do nothing and let the call (presumably) go to voicemail?

Option No. 1 is the least appealing of all to me; unless you have explicit permission to do so, answering someone else’s cellphone seems like a breach of personal space. Plus, who knows if the incoming call is one that needs/wants to be answered at that moment — everyone has their own screening protocols. So unless it’s your significant other (maybe), that’s out the window.

The other three have varying degrees of acceptability. Yelling might be appreciated, but seems obtrusive; and by the time that yell is acknowledged, the phone’s owner invariably runs back just in time to miss the call. Delivering the phone smacks of doing a chore that’s not yours. The do-nothing might be the best assumption, although some people will get miffed if you guess wrong on that.

Personally, I try to avoid this dilemma by keeping my cellphone obsessively attached to me, usually in my pocket. (That said, I’ve managed to miss a couple of calls over the past two days due to leaving my phone untethered from my body.)

So, I’ll throw it out to you, the readers. Which option is the most appropriate one, and why?

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 05/25/2005 08:36:59 AM
Category: Question Time!
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5 Feedbacks
  1. I always get up and pass the phone over to the owner if they’re not too far away. If they’ve popped off to attend to the call of nature then I let it ring off and when I see them let them know they missed a call, it’s up to them then whether to return it or not.

    I’d *never* answer someone’s phone unless they looked over and said “Can you get that?” I wouldn’t want anyone to answer mine in case I didn’t want them to know who I was speaking to!

    Comment by Flipping Heck! — 05/25/2005 @ 12:17:03 PM

  2. Option #5: Accidentally spill your drink on the offending phone.

    Comment by Tom Harper — 05/25/2005 @ 03:25:05 PM

  3. Do NOT ever, ever, ever touch anyone else’s phone! EVER!

    Comment by r* — 05/25/2005 @ 08:08:32 PM

  4. Option 6: Check your own voicemail, which gives you an excuse for not doing whichever of 1-4 the other person expected.

    Comment by Avi — 05/25/2005 @ 10:15:11 PM

  5. Unless they are on a tether and it’s their parole officer (or they have someone in the hospital) you leave it alone.

    As far as I’m concerned if they were next to the phone and you were standing there they can let it go to voicemail. They are visiting with you and it’s YOUR time. The caller can call back…

    Comment by Gary LaPointe — 05/26/2005 @ 02:02:45 AM

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