Busy Signal (h2so4 14)

Your telephone

The “new and improved” busy signal is not much of a signal, really: one BLAAT of a tone, followed by a woman’s nasal, somewhat exasperated-sounding voice, informing me that the number is busy (thanks!), but that for 95 cents, repeat dialing will call me back when the line is free. Whose idea was this? The old busy signal was monotonous, sure, but also sort of soothing. Now I’m interpellated as a possible consumer and subjected to a sales pitch every time I call a busy number. Ick!

—Gayle Salamon

Busy Signal

My telephone line

I am one of the few people I know who has neither call waiting nor voice mail. A) I still think it is rude to put someone on hold to “check the other line.” B) I prefer an answering machine, so I can screen my calls the “old-fashioned” way. This does not mean I play favorites. It just happens to be the case that it is best only to talk with me on the phone when I am ready and in a mood to do so. My friends can attest to the truth of this.

So I am one of the few people who still subject people to the busy signal. I think the busy signal is a good thing; in fact, I always kind of like it when I get a busy signal, rare as it is. It means “I’m busy.” It really isn’t necessary to do many things at once all the time. I like to give a phone call my full attention, or no attention at all. In that way I never felt a moment’s guilt when friends would say to me “I can’t believe I got a busy signal when I called you!” I mean, it doesn’t happen that often. I don’t spend much time on the phone and I have DSL! The busy signal functions as a reminder that not everything happens exactly when you want it to, on demand.

But I, like Gayle above, am not fond of the new busy signal. It tries to take the grace of the busy signal as I see it and make it into another version of voice mail or call waiting, saying “There is no need to call back later. I, a computer, will do it for you, and then call you to let you know I have succeeded. Give it no more thought, oh busy one.” Yes, this is a convenience, and I can see immediately why it would be a useful option. Still, I want the old busy signal back.

Jill Stauffer

PS— A bit of research has told me that the new busy signal has not gone into effect everywhere. If you make a call in Boston or New York, for instance, you still get to hear BLAAT BLAAT BLAAT BLAAT for as long as you care to listen. According to correspondent Heidi Pollock, “In NYC we get the busy signal. But we do get an opportunity to "leave a message for 50 cents" after five unanswered rings of a not-busy phone. I hate that message. Sometimes it's nice to relive the old days before answering machines, and let the phone ring and ring and ring. It's so meditative. That damn service ad ruins the whole ambiance.”