Suppose someone walks up to your front door and rings the doorbell while you are on vacation. Could be anyone: a Jehovah's Witness, a school board candidate, your mother-in-law. And then suppose you have a doorbell that records the number of times it has been rung in your absence. When you return from vacation, do you feel any obligation to track down the ringer?
This is my main point in the arg--er, discussion I keep having with my husband about missed cell-phone calls. He sees the little number on the "missed calls" list and he becomes obsessed with finding out who has been trying to reach him; I assume that if someone really needs to reach me, he or she will call back. But then I don't have a cell phone so what do I care?
(I care because I pay the phone bills, as I reminded him the time he wanted to track down a missed call from a number in Germany....)
What did we do before the missed calls list came into our lives? The phone rang in an empty house. No one answered. End of story. Or an answering machine picked up or the call went to voice mail, which means the story lasted a little longer, but we still choose not to return some calls. For instance, I never return those calls from recorded voices telling me that the warranty on my car is about to expire. The newest car in our household is 12 years old, so if it's still under warranty, I'll eat my cell phone. (Except I don't have a cell phone, so never mind).
The missed call list is probably intended to make our lives easier, but does it really? If we didn't know about those calls, we would go blithely on our way without devoting so much as a single brain cell to their existence. The missed call list, though, puts those numbers in front of our eyeballs and demands that we decide which ones to delete and what to do with the rest.
I don't care about the rest, okay? Except when I do, such as this morning, when my husband, while driving to work, called me at home to say that his cell phone listed a missed call from the area code in Texas where our son is at college. It wasn't our son's number, so I didn't worry about it.
But then it started gnawing on me while I drove to work: who would be calling us at 6:13 a.m.--5:13 in eastern Texas? Salespeople and computers know better than to call that early in the morning. It could have been a wrong number, in which case calling back would only cost money and extend the confusion. Or it could have been my son calling with some dire need...but it would take a platoon of armed soldiers to drag him out of bed that early on a Monday.
If he needs us, he'll call. That's what I keep telling myself. So far, the phone is not ringing, which makes me wonder: may I ask who is not calling?
And who will answer?