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The hierarchy of attention; or, why we hate your robocalls

phoneToday in Georgia we have a handful of runoff elections, and our phones have been ringing off the hook with robocalls from some of the tighter races. The two men running for the Senate, Jack Kingston and David Perdue, have each robocalled our house more than a dozen times. It’s crazy.

The problem is that a phone call, by nature, is requesting our attention right now. The various types of communication break down about like this:

Snail mail

If you send someone a letter in the mail, you’re saying “I want your attention sometime in the next few days“. I’m certainly not a fan of junk snail mail, but it’s a minor annoyance at worst.

Email

If you send someone an email, you’re saying “I want your attention sometime in the next few hours“. Granted, some people take days to respond to an email, but I think the expectation is to hear back within a matter of hours. Most social media messages tend to fall into this group, though some may slip into the next one.

Text message

If you send someone a text message, you’re saying “I want your attention sometime in the next few minutes“. The beauty of text messages is that you can wrap up what you’re doing before you reply. It’s a quick way to communicate, but allows a small buffer of time to wrap up previous tasks.

Phone call

If you call someone on the phone, you’re saying “I want your attention right now“. In other words, you’re being asked to drop what you’re doing and talk to them immediately. This isn’t always bad, though. Most of our clients email us for changes to their websites, but if something drastic is going on (server problems, etc), having them request our immediate attention is completely appropriate.

This is why robocalls feel so awful. A politician is saying “stop whatever you’re doing, whether it’s work, dinner with your family, hanging out with friends, etc, and give me your complete attention”. Worse, they’re not doing the same for you! They’re wanting to you commit some immediate time to them, simply to listen to a recording of why they think they’re great. It’s infuriating.

It’s important to keep these basic ideas in mind when dealing with other people. Granted, some prefer one medium over the other regardless of urgency, but in general these seem to line up rather well.

What do you think? Are robocalls really that insulting?

About the Author

Mickey Mellen

Co-Founder and Technical Director

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