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Busy Signals

Mark McGuinn

Mark McGuinn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a ton of music on my computer. I love music, and listen to it while I work or play. But I have so much, it’s difficult to navigate sometimes. I rarely need to hear THAT song, so my solution is to order the songs alphabetically and play that way. Straight through, A to Z. Or A to Busy in the last couple of months in my case…I told you I have a lot of music. Playing the music in order does more than satisfy my latent OCD tendencies. It’s a way to shuffle without getting lost. I never know what I’m going to hear–reggae? classical? pop/rock? country? jazz? international? So it stays fresh, something I’ve noticed doesn’t happen with playlists. At a certain point, kind of like with most commercial radio these days, you already know what the next song is going to be.

Anyway, I bring this up, because I just heard a song–“Busy Signal” off Mark McGuinn‘s 2001 debut album–and it struck me, well, two things actually struck me: first what the heck ever happened to Mark McGuinn? but secondly, and more important for my discussion here, does anyone under the age of 30 even know what a busy signal IS anymore? It seems fairly obvious to me the answer would be a resounding no.

I would also argue that losing that busy signal has cost us something as a society. (Insert creaky gramma voice here: When I was your age…) Seriously, those of us who grew up with a busy signal learned a lesson that the subsequent generation has not. While I’m not willing to lay the death of civilization as we know it to call-waiting, there is something to be said for the power of the busy signal. First of all, it taught that the latter caller was not the end-all, be-all of the universe. Guess what? Someone else was first, you have to wait. I have noticed, over an almost thirty-year career of working with the public that this has manifested itself outside the realm of the phone. In a previous era, when engaged with one customer, the second would walk up, stop a certain distance away that let me know that s/he needed something while at the same time being a respectful distance that let me know, they were politely waiting their turn. Today? Not so much. You can be obviously engaged with a customer or employee (I’ve observed this from both sides of the counter) and another person will walk up, and without so much as a sheepish look, start spouting about their needs.

I’ve developed a way of handling this, from both sides of the counter. If I am the employee, I smile as brightly as I can and explain that I was helping this customer who had arrived first and would be with the interloper shortly. Being on the other side of the counter is waaaay more fun. “Oh, I’m so sorry, how rude of me to have been here first. That was so inconsiderate on my part. Please, by all means interrupt, I just know that YOUR time is soooooo much more valuable than mine or anyone else’s. No really, you are obviously so much more important than a mere mortal like myself, take my time and my sales associate. It’s only right.” I can’t tell you how many (not always surreptitious) high-fives I have shared with frustrated sales people.

I realize this makes me sound like a crank. I also realize that EVERY generation thinks that the one that comes after is a bunch of ill-mannered ingrates. However, this behavior is cross-generational. I’ve seen it from the X-, Y-, Z- and whatevertheheckthey’recalledthesedays-generation as well as the “Greatest” generation. It seems to have infected the society from top to bottom. Cure? Who knows…I don’t see the busy signal making a comeback anytime soon. And since we still insist on giving everyone a trophy, everyone thinks they’re special. Which, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, except that even though everyone gets the same trophy, everyone still thinks that they are MORE special…

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