Bad Phone Behavior or Locatable?

Is Mom’s phone open 24/7 for notifications?

A phone with a text message that says "Where are you?" Do we need to be locatable all the time?
Is it Bad Phone Behavior if we are not always Locatable?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Is this bad phone behavior or am I right? Is it necessary to get up in the morning and check first thing for messages? My son drives a truck for a living and lives a few hours away. He got mad when I didn’t look at an early morning text he sent from the road. He was nearby and planned to stop in for breakfast and a swim in the pool. But I had my coffee, read the newspapers, and did an errand so I missed him. He was upset. Stella, Vallejo

Dear Stella, I love getting questions about “bad phone behavior” but in this case I can’t decide if the “bad phone behavior” is on him or on you!

I imagine that you are from a generation that does planning in advance, and is not accustomed to last minute changes in the itinerary. That makes sense in the days before smartphones, and that was barely twelve years ago. If you had to meet someone, say at a train station or in a foreign city, you set up a fixed spot (always under the train clock!) where you would find each other. And, you demarked the precise time. If one of you got delayed, you had a backup plan like circle back to the clock in two hours time.

In fact, an early study of flip phones communications showed that most of the messaging back and forth was advance planning of places and times to meet.

Just in Time Meet-UP:

Now, with smartphones that exigency has flown out the window. We can do “just in time” meet-ups or even let someone follow our travel route in real time. There are fewer slipups and we can be more spontaneous about getting together as your son was. But, it also means that we can be more capricious. Perhaps you have friends that want to set up a time to meet, and then, just a few minutes before, they text that they are stuck in traffic, etc.

But, your question about “text in the morning” gets to a deeper question. At what time, or times of the day are we required to be “reachable” by phone, and what time of the day are we off-line? Previously I have lauded The Digital Sabbath, Tiffany Shlain’s counsel that we take family time once a week, to be completely offline.


Perhaps we need additional buffer time, say early in the morning and late in the evening to be offline too? It is not a new idea, and thought leaders like Cal Newport have cited the need to bring deliberation and focus to these bookended hours. Imagine the bookends as an OFF switch in which you stay ON!

Clearly if you are in sales and you are expected to be online, you and your boss have to work out the hours in which you will take a call. And, if you drive a truck and are on the clock, you are scanning for traffic and your next haul. But, if you are drinking your coffee and reading your newspapers (yay), then I don’t see why the inner voice to check messages takes precedent.


Fortunately, there are two ways that you and your son can connect better for the future. One is old tech and the other is new. First, new tech. Phones have a feature called “Do Not Disturb.” Here, under settings, you set a time period in which you will not receive phone calls and notifications. However, you denote exceptions for certain people, like family members or emergencies. If you organize your phone’s settings this way, the notification from your son will ring through.

The other way to connect with him is old-school but it makes planning airtight. Ask him to ‘put a ring on it.’ It’s an old idea but a single ding-ding call now and then can replace a thousand texts and misunderstandings.

I Don’t Get Phone Calls On Phone

Is it me or my phone? No one calls!

A graphic of a phone with lots of question marks (?) on the screen.
Don’t Get Phone Calls on Phone? Why? (image by depositphotos)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I know it sounds odd, but I don’t get phone calls on my phone.  If someone calls me, it goes right to voicemail or later shows up in missed calls. It’s nice not to be interrupted, but I am afraid I might be missing things? Tony, San Rafael

Dear Tony: You may be missing things, but you are not alone! When I taught classes  in-person, missing phone calls was a frequent problem, but also one that people were embarrassed to ask about!

When you get a brand new phone, there are no instructions in the box. Instead there is a tiny piece of paper with an FCC advisory translated into 7 different languages.  I encourage everyone with a new phone to go online and study a graphic of the controls (see below). It’s not just about silencing calls- it’s also  knowing where the software engineers  have placed the microphone, the antennas, cameras and more. Plus, you will need knowledge of these buttons, in unison,  to take a screenshot.

Know Thy Toggles

On the iPhone 11 (right) , but not  Samsung 20 (left), the on/off ring feature is controlled by a tiny toggle on the side of the phone. It can inadvertently get flipped off (no pun intended) in your bag or pocket.  It would be useful if the phone had a visible icon to alert you about this but as the designers say,  ‘so little real-estate.’

That said, your question is not trivial. Let’s dive deeper into the settings on the smartphone. The toggle on your iPhone might be set to ‘on’ but other functions could stop calls from coming through. Go to settings (the icon that looks like a fan), then <Do Not Disturb> and <Silence>. If Silence is toggled ‘on’, then all  incoming calls will end up in voice mail.  Further down the same screen, note the overrides. This control specifies which calls should ring through and which should not when the phone is locked, i.e. not active. 

Override the silence

Some iPhones seem to block incoming calls when the device is inactive, even if you do not silence calls. So, a work around is to open up the contact list and add the name and number from someone you expect to call in soon … perhaps a second stage job interview, a plumber, an out- of- town guest, etc.   You can delete them from the contact list the next day. 

There’s one more step to keep on top of the missing calls. Go back to <Settings> and  scroll down until you reach <Phone>.  Here  is where you keep these specific notifications turned on, so even if you miss a phone call, you will learn about it later on.  And, if you get incoming calls on your Apple Watch, this is where to manage them.

And SEEK Ending!

It’s worthwhile noting that while you can’t get incoming phone calls, sometimes you can’t end them either. Maybe you will hear water flowing, groans, or  giggles at the other end after you  technically ‘hang up.’ . This seems to occasionally happen on Iphones when you use the hands- free mode.  Earlier phones, with home buttons, were more likely to disconnect with a double click.

In summing up, remember that until say forty years ago, it was impossible to “turn off” a phone.  An incoming call could not be silenced  unless you took the receiver off the hook. Even then the corded phone made an angry click sound. There was no avoiding a ringing phone. Digital etiquette and the need-to- know required  households and offices to vigilantly pick up a call. It was uncertain what awaited at the other end, as caller ID and the answering machine were still ‘on hold.’

Misunderstood Prank on Email

A fake photo of an orca attacking a bear. It is a prank photo that has gone viral on social media.
Orca & The Bear. A Misunderstood April Fools’ Prank. See

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Can you help me understand this misunderstood prank?  On April Fool’s Day (this past Thursday) I posted an email to the town’s listserv. I  invited fellow board members to a special Transportation Meeting. My email strongly recommended that they arrive on a scooter or bicycle. At the end of the email I wrote ‘Happy April Fools!’  Despite this, two or three people immediately called the town administrator to say they had a conflict with the date. Another person called the accessibility commissioner and complained about scooters! Honestly, I sent the email in humor but it came off as a misunderstood prank. Do people not have a sense of humor anymore?  Craig (name of town withheld)

Dear Craig: Hopefully by now this misunderstood prank has sunk to the bottom of the  email well and you and the town are happily reconciled. My sympathies. All of us have sent emails that we wish to have erased.  But here is why your email “blew up.” 

First, it’s April 2021, and the pandemic has made people edgy and anxious. It’s been a stressful 13 months and many have checked out, literally.  For them,  April 1 was just another new month when the rent was due and there were bills to pay. They probably forgot the occasion unless they were tuned in to jokey-jokey morning radio or TV. The Onion is not the reading choice of your listserve friends and the media they consult may be too fragmented.

Second, and this ties into a recent DearSmartphone post, we seem to be experiencing weird, wacky, and woke decision making by public groups. Why?  Perhaps the majority of people who meet on Zoom don’t speak up, and a vocal minority lead the charge.  Your April Fool’s  email that required board members to arrive by scooter or bike might have struck them as another wacky iteration.

Jumping to Wrong Conclusions

Obviously, you are grieved because people did not read the email to the end. That would have clarified it was an April Fool’s lark. But, in my post on the weird and wacky, note that disassociated publics can jump to quick  (and wrong) conclusions. Most likely, the members read the email from home, alone, and for some, still in their PJs. The post would have been received differently had they congregated at the water-cooler or conversed about it over the office cubicles.  

While I hate to be a spoiler, there is a larger, sinister issue surrounding your innocent April Fools prank. Increasingly our media seems to be hijacked by fake news and fake followers. For example, nearly half of the Twitter accounts spreading messages about the pandemic this past summer were probably bots, according to researchers  at Carnegie Mellon University. And, recently The New York Times has started publishing ‘Daily Distortions’, a feed to chronicle and debunk false and misleading information. Meanwhile, it’s not just the news stories that are co-opted. There is increasingly sophisticated  software that alters and fabricate images.

Check Hoax, Check ‘Snopes’

You might get a smile from the site called where I found the river image (above). Quite to your point, someone posted the image and a  prank story on April’s Fools day, 2015.  Snopes, a useful fact-checking site, says people continue to stumble upon the image of an Orca attacking a bear.  Bearware?!  It’s beginning to feel like everyday is April Fools!