Is the busy signal obsolete?

old telephoneMy 7-year-old son called his friend today to see if he wanted to go play outside in the snow (we received a foot of snow here this week). Using our home phone line, my son picked up the phone, dialed the number, put the phone to his ear and then suddenly got a really weird look on his face.

I asked him about the look on his face and he said, “Dad, the phone’s making a really weird noise. It’s going like bzzzz-bzzzz-bzzzz.”

I told him that the sound he was hearing was a busy signal. That explanation didn’t do much to satisfy my son so I went on to explain that his friend or someone in his family must already be using their phone.

Still confused

The utter look of confusion still on my son’s face made me realize that trying to explain to him why someone can’t take his call because they are using their phone is like trying to explain to him why he can’t see the picture someone just took on an old film camera.

You see, my son has grown up his entire life with voice mail. To him, if someone can’t take a call or is already using his or her phone, it will simply play a voice greeting and then ask you to leave a message. So to him, it made no sense why he wasn’t hearing his friend’s family’s voice mail greeting.

So I ask, is the busy signal doomed to the same fate as the film camera?

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  1. Andrew Ball

    Someday we may be able to customize the busy signal… but for now I’m glad that cell phones have “old time” ring tones so we don’t forget the sound.

  2. asudduth

    Is the busy signal doomed?  No, I don’t think so… In times of economic issues my parents dropped the cell phone, and got rid of 3-way calling, call waiting, caller ID, and voicemail. (Their phone has a built-in answering machine, so they thought they could use that… and if someone needed them, they can call back!) People may be slimming down, so I think it is still possible to get busy signals.  In fact my inlaws have never had call waiting or voicemail!

    I do have to admin, it is weird hearing a busy signal as its not something that happens daily, but for people that still have phone lines from the telephone company and trying to save a buck, it may not be far-fetched.

    although 10 years for now… maybe all phones will be Cell or VoIP and be packaged with call waiting and voicemail, and my response would be different but for 2009, I think its safe.

  3. Patric Welch

    @Andrew I still do a double-take whenever I hear someone’s cell phone with the “old-fashioned” telephone ring.

  4. Patric Welch

    @asudduth Yeah, it will probably stick around a while. Just like I’m sure someone out there is still pretty darn proud of their 8-track player.

  5. Colin Clark

    What about land-line telephones?  How long with those stick around.  They’re already basically obsolete aren’t they?

  6. Patric Welch

    @Colin As long as some people continue to worry about their cell phone not working or having a dead battery, they will keep a land line if only to be able to call 9-1-1.

  7. Joe Dager

    Great story! I love those little nuances that we grow out of so quickly. Do you remember waking up to the TV in the middle of the night with that warning sign? How long has that been gone?

    Thanks Patric, nostalgia is good!

  8. Patric Welch

    @Joe Don’t remind me about televisions going off the air at night. Makes me think of Poltergeist, a movie I was way too young to see and that still haunts me whenever I see that “snowy” picture.

    They’rrrrrrrre here! ;)