Is it irresponsible for me to keep my cell phone on 'silent' at night?
December 2, 2013 7:11 PM   Subscribe

Here's the thing: I don't have a land-line. Over Thanksgiving, my mother got upset at the thought that she couldn't reach me late at night if there were some kind of emergency - the dreaded "3 am phone call." I understand her worry, but I'm feeling very resistant to the idea of keeping the phone on at night. In part, this because I know that most of the calls I'll get will just be annoying and unwanted (I have a fairly severe telemarketing issue) but I think there is also a kind of psychological resistance. I'm a slave to my phone already for all these hours of the day, and it feels good to know it won't be bothering me while I'm sleeping. I'm reluctant to give that up. Can you help me sort through these issues?

My partner and I both keep our phones by our beds, since we use them as our alarms. As grad students, we also keep a late-shifted schedule (1 am - 9 am). For both those reasons, we turn our phones to "silent" when we go to bed - and in fact, my phone is on silent 99% of the time, but when I'm awake, I check it anywhere from every couple of minutes to every couple of hours.

I guess I have a few questions:

1. Am I an outlier? For those of you who are cell-phone only, are you reachable at night? I think a general consensus that I'm way out of line might help me push past this. It's partly the fact that both my partner and I ended up in this situation without even discussing it that made it seem like the 'natural' way of doing things.

2. Am I being irresponsible? I don't want to invite horror stories, exactly, but maybe part of the issue is that I've never been the recipient of this kind of phone call. Certainly, if a parent or a sibling went into the hospital late at night, I'd want to know immediately - but there are other times of day when I sacrifice immediate availability in exchange for other benefits. How long would you say someone could be unreachable via phone before they are being irresponsible? Are there other reasons to keep the phone on at night that I'm not thinking of, or other issues I'm not considering?

3. Is there an obvious compromise or solution?
posted by pretentious illiterate to Society & Culture (77 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If it is an iPhone, you can put it in Do Not Disturb mode,and then select certain contacts or favorites that you want to be exceptions. If it is not an iPhone, maybe you have a similar setting you can use.
posted by tamitang at 7:15 PM on December 2, 2013 [16 favorites]

if it's that important to her, your mom could buy you a pay as you go phone that you keep by the bed so she -- and maybe a select few others? can contact you in the middle of the night?
posted by lemniskate at 7:16 PM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't know what type of phone you have, but with the new iphone ios, there is a "do not disturb" setting that lets you whitelist numbers. And/or have them ring through if they call more than once in three minutes.
posted by mercredi at 7:16 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey, yeah, that is probably an important thing to point out: it is NOT a very smart phone.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:16 PM on December 2, 2013

Is there a way to set one or two numbers that will ring through the "silent" setting" That way your mother will be able to call you, if need be, but telemarketers will not. This will depend on what kind of phone you have, though (iPhones can do this).
posted by AwkwardPause at 7:17 PM on December 2, 2013

Some phones are able to override the 'silent' setting for certain numbers - you might want to look into that.

That way, your mother can call you at 3:00 am, but telemarketers can't.
posted by Hatashran at 7:17 PM on December 2, 2013

I also turn my phone off at night. I'm single, I have no children, and none of my relatives have serious health issues. If any of those things changed, I'd probably reconsider.
posted by jaguar at 7:18 PM on December 2, 2013

Best answer: Don't feed other people's fears. Don't turn your phone on. Find the office number of your nearest police station and give that to your mother. If there is a real 3am emergency, she can ring them and they can visit you in person.

I am speaking as someone who has had the dreaded early morning call. I have a landline and I still don't answer my phone at night unless someone rings twice.
posted by Kerasia at 7:20 PM on December 2, 2013 [57 favorites]

I turn my ringer off at night. I have a college student, 3 high schoolers and an ex-wife. I also have parents in their late 70s and 80s. If the kids are with me, I do not go to sleep until they are all home. If they are with my ex, she is the person "on call". I am pretty sure they would call my land line that is unlisted if they needed me immediately in the middle of the night.

I do not think you are being irresponsible. I am not sure what good it would do to get the 3:00am phone call unless you are living very close to the likely caller. Unless you are within an hours drive, what could you possibly do with the dreaded call?

If you cannot do as suggested above and whitelist your mother's number, consider porting your number to Google Voice where you can do that sort of thing. You would get a new number for your phone. It would also take care of the telemarketer thing.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:20 PM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Mine is vibrate-only at all times. I have no landline. Because I have no dependents and my family lives far away, I don't get 3am phone calls, so it's not a problem. My emergency contacts know that they may not be able to reach me, and we plan to work around that. It's not any different from being at work or on the subway or in a therapy session or going for a run; there are times when I am just not rechable, and for now that's OK and my basic assumption of normal!

"Do not disturb mode" sounds like a plan. I would not suggest a pay as you go phone for certain people because the numbers are oversold and you will get random strangers calling and asking to buy some blow.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:21 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Telemarketers absolutely do not call at 3am, in my experience. I have passed through some anxiety about marketers, debt collectors, and phone calls, and one thing in my experience is that I've never had anyone call at particularly odd hours.
posted by ftm at 7:23 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I use my Iphone as an alarm; the only reason I sometimes don't turn off the phone element is because I keep forgetting. I think you are eminently reasonable in not wanting people calling you at 3 am. And in the unlucky event of someone having to reach you with an emergency, what are the odds of being the sort of emergency you could do anything about right then and there? (Also my mother still gets time zones confused and calls me at odd hours which totally freaks me out because I think something terrible has happened and she's just calling to chat.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:24 PM on December 2, 2013

Iphone here. I use *only* do not disturb mode. 24 hours a day. It's wonderful.
posted by rr at 7:29 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

it is NOT a very smart phone.

So get a smart phone? You can pick up old versions of new phones for very little.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:30 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I like iPhone's do not disturb mode too, but aren't all these suggestions about iPhones not helpful when the OP doesn't have a smartphone?
posted by andrewesque at 7:30 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can't say more than others have about trying to find a 'solution' but what came to my mind was, even if your phone were 'on' or you had a landline, who says you would wake to answer it? I know that it's 50/50 whether I would wake up. Especially because I sometimes just leave my phone in another room without thinking about it...
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:30 PM on December 2, 2013

Android has several apps that allow you to silence the phone at night but let select numbers ring through. A lot of older pre-smart phones will let a call ring through a silent setting if they call twice in three minutes or something. See if your un-smart phone can do that.

But really, you should talk to your mom about what she would have done when you were unreachable before cell phones. I get anxious about it too (and in fact I have had two - TWO! - emergency room emergencies while my husband was unreachable by cell in the past 3 years). But people coped before cell phones, and before telephones, and when I couldn't reach my husband, other helpful people on both ends helped find him.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:30 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Are you receiving telemarketing calls at night? I mean if it is on silent you should still know how many calls you missed while sleeping sooooo is this actually happening?

I only ask because like ftm my phone has only rung one time between the hours of 10pm and 9am and that was my dad calling to tell me my childhood dog had died.

That said if you want data points, my phone is on unless I'm in a movie theater. Not because I'm worried about missing a call or something, I'm just too lazy to keep switching it back and forth.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:30 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I turned off my phone at night. Until my daughter away at school had a bonafide emergency in the middle of the night and couldn't reach me. I don't dwell on regret, but this was one of the biggest parenting mistakes I've ever made. Please don't be me.
posted by raisingsand at 7:32 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have my phone set to automatically go to silent (not vibrate) when my calendar says "Sleep." It's hard to think of any reason where me being reachable at 3 a.m. rather than when I wake up would actually help with something. It might be different if I had kids.
posted by grouse at 7:34 PM on December 2, 2013

3. Your mother agrees to buy you an older iPhone and you agree to let her number be the one that's allowed to reach you 24/7?
posted by kmennie at 7:36 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I am going to send my mom the non-emergency number of the local police station. Just to confirm, if she called and said, "Someone is at the hospital, and we can't reach her," the police would come and ring my doorbell, yes? We live in a very safe and well-policed area, but if someone wants to say this is a waste of police resources, I'm open to hearing that criticism.

Luckily, everyone is in very good health at the moment, so the odds of this happening are low.

I'm also still very curious about the 'social norm' aspect of this question, so if you want to continue weighing in on that, you're welcome to do so.

Thanks, everybody!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:40 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another solution is to get a pager for your mom.
posted by grouse at 7:40 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is not "irresponsible" to do this.

My mom has very occasionally gotten a little miffed when I didn't answer my phone right away or called her back right away. She says, "What if it's an emergency?" I'm all: then call my husband, call one of your sons, call your sister, call the police, call 911. I live a 12-hour drive away. There is limited I can do in the case of an actual emergency.

I also sleep with ear plugs in and an eye mask on so even if my phone was on and at my bedside, I might not hear it. I can seemingly hear my kid in my bones at night but everything else fades away.

Your mom could help you pay for a new phone that enables only her to get through the "do not disturb" function or you could tell her that you'll leave it on from here on out and then do whatever you want. :)
posted by amanda at 7:41 PM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you want to be kind to your mom, she can buy a use-as-you-go phone at Target for $20, with a number only she knows, and you can keep that in your room, for late night emergencies only. But don't be surprised if you get the occasional wrong number on it.

(I don't keep a phone by my bed, but I would if there were a chance that I would get an emergency late night phone call that I'd regret not being able to take. When I'm away from my husband or children I keep my phone by the bedside.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:42 PM on December 2, 2013

You can get a Google Voice number and give it only to your mother. It will ring on any device you chose and callers have to ID themselves. Depending on your carrier, you can can block telemarketers. Giving her the police number isn't really going to allay her fears.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:49 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

pretentious illiterate: " Am I an outlier? For those of you who are cell-phone only, are you reachable at night? "

I have a land line and I still don't answer the bloody thing (or my cell) after I've gone to bed so I don't find this much of an outlier at all. Caveat: I don't have young children away at boarding school.

Also I wouldn't be taking the "buy me a phone and/or minutes and I'll keep the phone on" route. Why the heck burden yourself with a special phone that you'll have to maintain for essentially no reason.
posted by Mitheral at 7:50 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

To the folks who keep fixating on when the telemarketers call: Our pretentious illiterate has said he and his partner work late shift, so are sleeping during times when telemarketers do call.
posted by klangklangston at 7:50 PM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

My phone is on vibrate almost all the time (except for those times when it is on silent mode). At night time it is more often than not charging downstairs, so there is no way I would be able to hear it if someone called.

I'm not sure what exactly the 3am phone call is, but unless you are a first responder there isn't much you'd be able to do anyway. If there is an emergency then there are professionals who should be contacted, you'd just get in the way.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:52 PM on December 2, 2013

I don't want people calling me in the middle of the night. If they ever did, I would put my phone on silent.

What are you going to do in an emergency? The cops can help; an ambulance can help. Your mom should call 911 in an emergency, not you.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:58 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would add that when my children were young, baby sitter young, we instructed the sitter that if she thought she needed to call us, call 911 first then let us know what happened.

Tell your mom you (and therefore her) are much better off getting the full night's sleep so that you can be rested to deal with any issues you may need to in the light of day.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:02 PM on December 2, 2013

I keep my phone on and charging but often I have it on vibrate or silent or who knows what, it varies. I live FAR from my parents again, any 3am calls wouldn't result in my doing anything. Although once I did receive a 6am call about someone being injured (but okay in the long run) and the early time (and their time difference) made me think it was "THE 3am call" and I was freaking out.

Basically if you live close enough to do something, then someone (relative or police) could knock on your door. If you live too far to do something, it doesn't make that much of a difference between 3am and 9am in terms of what you are able to do with the news.

I think basically you gave away too much information and now your mother has something to stress over:)
posted by bquarters at 8:04 PM on December 2, 2013

oh and in response to your question -- no, I don't think you're an outlier. We're a cell-only house and we don't keep ours in our room at night. I think this is generational… I feel like "phone by the bed" was a standard setup back when land lines were the norm, and "middle of the night call" is a trope from that time.

Everyone who's pointed out that you wouldn't be able to help her in an emergency anyway is right, but she's probably imagining a scenario where she's having a stroke or something and too confused to do anything but call her kid. Up to you whether you want to humor this.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:06 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the Google Voice number is the simplest solution if you actually want to give your Mom (and trusted other contacts) a way to reach you.

Otherwise, I keep my phone on silent at night, with family exceptions for emergencies because my family is close enough that I might not be able to do anything but be present if necessary.

So if you don't want to change what you're doing... don't. Tell your mom to call someone else, and have that person leave a message for you to contact that person, once they've done whatever they can do.
posted by canine epigram at 8:11 PM on December 2, 2013

I am cellphone only and I am reachable at night. My parents are in their mid 60s and are in good health. Of course my Mom's going to call 911 first if she has a problem. She's not expecting me to be the first responder. But she's counting on me (and/or my brother) to still show up at the hospital, talk to the docs, etc.

I'd feel like shit if the "Ms. Russell, we have your mother at the hospital and she's scared/unconscious/very ill" call came at 3am and I didn't know it for four hours later. Or if Mom herself called and said, "Kim, your brother's been in an accident .. we're at XXX hospital and I'm scared." Dad lives 1000 miles away. But I'd still want to take that midnight call if he had a problem so I can start arranging my transportation if I'm needed.

It all depends on you and the level of action you'd want to take if something happened. I'd want to know ASAP, so I'm set up to take the call.
posted by kimberussell at 8:14 PM on December 2, 2013 [10 favorites]

I don't think it's necessarily weird or anything to turn your phones off at night, but now that you know it bothers your mum, maybe it's a continue. Probably you'll never need to take a call at night (if I understand your question correctly - I think you are sleeping between 1am and 9am?). No telemarketers or other phone pests are going to ring you that late. But maybe someone you care about might want to get a hold of you for varying reasons. I think it is unreasonable to expect your local police to serve as your answering service. I don't think it's unreasonable for you to contemplate getting a phone that you can make allow certain calls, perhaps your mother or other people you'd want to know if they needed you/your ear at night time.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 8:21 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I turn off my cell phone when I'm in my office/classroom and after 11 at night. My mother used to complain about it, but she's calmed down in recent years, after I failed to die young and she learned that I learned that I don't have to talk in the phone if I don't want to.

I think we're moving more towards a concept of a phone as a notifier that someone wants to communicate with us to us instead of a demand that we have a conversation whenever the caller wants. I've found that, with me and my friends anyway, the more we rely on our phones, the less likely we are to answer them unless we really want to to talk that person at that moment. And if we don't want to talk - like say, when we're sleeping - the phone goes off. The more opportunity you have to contact me, the more I protect myself.

I might also add that I hate talking on phones and actually cancelled our landline because I kept screaming whenever the ringer when off, so I may not be the best person to give phone etiquette/psychology advice.
posted by bibliowench at 8:21 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have an iPhone 5, and had no idea until now that 'Do Not Disturb' mode existed.

I am in the same situation as you, OP, and I sleep with my phone on silent but next to my bed as an alarm. No landline, distant elderly parents, etc. it's worth the trade-off not to be disturbed, IMO.
posted by Salamander at 8:27 PM on December 2, 2013

i don't think it's just about being able to do something if someone is injured but being with the person to provide some comfort. i have an iphone and i was turning it off at night except for family and also using it as my alarm. the problem is i forgot i am on my mom's lifeline list and a couple weeks ago i got a call from them but i was asleep. lifeline is where she wears an emergency button on a chain and presses it if she has an emergency. my mom had fallen. she's okay and was mostly just shaken up and was able to call 911 herself as she had her phone with her too, but i realized i have to keep my phone on at night in case it happens again. i have tried turning texting alerts off on my iphone but when i turned it back on last time i got a text it didn't make any noise so i gotta figure out what is up with that.

so, i'd suggest getting a smart phone, preferably an iphone, and use the do not disturb feature and just add those people you do want to hear from if something happens. that would easily solve your problem. please please do not put this off on the police. that is a huge waste of our public resources for real police matters. the police need to be as available as possible for real emergencies.
posted by wildflower at 8:32 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live out in the country where there's no reception and don't have a land line. If you want to talk to me at home, you can IM me in various formats, or you can call my work number, which rings through to an IP phone in my home office, that essentially nobody but my manager knows the number to. There is no 3am emergency that I can make a difference in. If my grandmother dies in the middle of the night, and I don't learn about it until 7am, nothing will change except that I will have had a decent night's sleep.

One time my neighbors received a reverse 911 call warning us of an armed man in the neighborhood who had held someone up at gunpoint. I learned of this after knocking on my next door neighbor's door. He never came up into our little cul-de-sac. The chances that this happens again are not high enough to make me get another phone.

You don't *NEED* a constant phone connection to the world. It's a convenience/distraction that's entirely optional.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:53 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm in my 30s, and I never even have my ringer "on" unless I am expecting a call. It's not even on vibrate. I cannot abide the sound, frankly. I am also really not attached to my phone, and I am very attached to my sleep. I have always been this way.
posted by sm1tten at 8:57 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am a first responder that rarely sleeps with my phone in my bedroom. I did have a 2:00 am phone call the other morning, it was from a friend. She had fallen and tore a 13 inch laceration down her flank. I told her to call 911 and call me back. I couldn't help her, I was 45 minutes away. The 911 operator kept her on the phone until the ambulance arrived. I went to see her in the ICU unit about 10:00 am.
posted by JujuB at 9:04 PM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

While I'm asleep, I keep my cell phone on the nightstand roughly three inches from my face, and I keep the ringer on pretty much all the time. However, I sleep like the dead, so it makes absolutely no difference whether my phone is on silent or the highest ring volume possible, I'm not going to hear it.

I do worry about other people being able to contact me during the night (in the case of an emergency, even if you can't physically be somewhere, there might be other people you could call or information you know that could be of help). I also worry about my being able to get through and call for help in the event of a larger disaster (eg, an earthquake). My solution is to try and have a landline in service as well as my cell (though sometimes I've let the landline lapse).

There are some "emergency landline" phone services that you can add on to your internet and/or cable bill for $10 or $15/mo, if that would work for you.

If you use cable internet, there's also a device called "Magic Jack" that allows you to set up a landline-style phone that runs the calls over the internet (a la GoogleVoice). When I bought mine, it was about $25, and the service was about $40/year, but they've had a couple new versions come out since then.

Aside from all the other pros/cons of being reachable at all times, personally, I'd rather get a phone call from family than the police banging on my door in the middle of the night, though I'm not sure how the police feel about it either way -- that's enough to keep me from telling my mom to just call the cops if she needs to get a hold of me.
posted by rue72 at 9:08 PM on December 2, 2013

I live in the same city as most of the people who might call me in the middle of the night, and my ringer stays on. I have been the recipient of late night phone calls that I would not have wanted to miss. Sure, likely nobody would have died if I had slept through my mother and sisters being evacuated from their house at 3am because the house next door was on fire, but probably they would have been sitting shoeless in their pajamas in a police station for several hours, and since it was in my power to spare them that unpleasantness, I was glad to do it.

(I am possibly influenced by my past experiences - for a year or so while my mother was in treatment for cancer, I was on call to come and take her to hospital quick smart if she got a fever, and while I was not the only transport available to her she seriously could have died on any of those occasions. I would not have wanted to miss those calls, and the habit of making sure I'm contactable has stuck with me.)
posted by Cheese Monster at 9:14 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend and I keep our phones near our bedstands on vibrate. A single text message or phone call isn't enough to disturb our sleep, but when someone called us both several times in a row at 6 AM, it eventually woke one of us up.

Depending on how strong your vibrate setting is, would telling your mother to call several times in a true emergency be an acceptable solution?
posted by psycheslamp at 9:28 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

We keep our cell phones in our bedroom. We tell everyone to call us at night on the land line; they don't have to worry about waking us up, because we can't hear it. If there is an EMERGENCY, call one of our cell phones. Only used it once, son in ER with problems with his appendix, glad we could drive over (20 minutes) and be there with him.

You have no responsibility to be available at all times. It is absolutely okay to have no devices in your bedroom. Your call. (sorry)
posted by kestralwing at 9:34 PM on December 2, 2013

I turn mine off at night*. The one person likely to call at 3 a.m. in the event of emergency is my mother...but as far as she's concerned, she'll call me any damn time she wants no matter when I ask her not to, such as at 7 a.m. when I am trying to get dressed and out the door for work. I cannot put her down as "emergency calls only" because anything she wants to call me about is an emergency and she will behave as such, and only a turned-off phone stops that. So....nobody can get through with an emergency call. I don't have kids or a husband to worry about, and I can't trust Mom to not wake me up whenever she likes, so.... odds are a lot higher that she'll wake me up/call at a super bad time than an emergency is likely to happen, and I play those odds.

For the record: when I have had emergencies of my own at 3 and 5 a.m. (such as an apartment flooding), I still bloody waited until around 8 a.m. or later to call friends or family about it for help, because none of them were going to be able to help at the wee small hours of the morning anyway.

* I also get the worst reception in the house in my bedroom, so leaving my phone on in there for long periods of time is only gonna uselessly drain it to boot.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:45 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

When we used to have a landline I turned it to silent at night. Both Mr Joh and I have iPhones and use Do Not Disturb mode, with our parents, babysitters, and a couple of key people on the whitelist. Our phones sit next to the bed, and we do not want to be disturbed unless its an emergency. Our parents are very old and frail, but they live on the other side of the world, so its the middle of their day when we're asleep. When there was an emergency, we were too far away to do anything about it, so they waited and called us at 8am. Honestly though, this is one of many reasons I love having a smartphone. I like that I can set up rules that allow only important people to call me in the middle of the night, if they need to.
posted by Joh at 10:10 PM on December 2, 2013

klangklangston To the folks who keep fixating on when the telemarketers call: Our pretentious illiterate has said he and his partner work late shift, so are sleeping during times when telemarketers do call.

OP said they keep 1am-9am hours. The FDCPA forbids debt collectors from calling after 9pm and before 8am. If they are calling during forbidden hours the OP should absolutely do something about that.

pretentious illiterate We live in a very safe and well-policed area, but if someone wants to say this is a waste of police resources, I'm open to hearing that criticism.

I spent 10 years working in 911 communications and related fields. It is a waste of police resources.

Welfare checks and notifications are done as a last resort kind of thing by police departments and for you to rely on yours to make a notification when you have a working phone is irresponsible.
posted by mlis at 10:14 PM on December 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

My phone is always on silent, regardless of whether I'm asleep or not. I just don't feel that constant communication is necessary, even when something bad happens. I figure I'm a lot more useful after sleeping through the night than I am after sitting awake for hours worrying about things I can't fix. I do check my phone for messages and missed calls regularly, though. I live far away from all my family and have elderly grandparents and parents who have had health scares.

For what it's worth, my sister isn't allowed to have her phone in her possession while at work. A month or so ago, her husband was hit by a car while biking and broke his hand. She missed the call from the ER because her phone was in her locker, but it didn't matter because the driver of the car (rightly!) insisted on calling an ambulance and there's nothing my sister could have done from work except worry herself sick. If there's ever a real emergency, there are people far better equipped to deal with it than you are, and your mom should call them, not you. Maybe talk to your mom (tactfully) about why she feels like she needs to contact you IMMEDIATELY in case of an emergency.

Also, consider whether you expect your mom to be immediately available if you had an emergency, and if so, whether it's reasonable for you to not offer her the same courtesy. I definitely DON'T expect my mom to have her phone on all the time now that I'm an adult, and she doesn't expect the same from me.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 10:39 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

"OP said they keep 1am-9am hours. The FDCPA forbids debt collectors from calling after 9pm and before 8am. If they are calling during forbidden hours the OP should absolutely do something about that."

C'mon, keep up. "3am phone call" can be figurative; debt collectors aren't the only telemarketers; and getting calls during the sleep time for a person on third shift will fuck up that sleep cycle. Fixating on rules for telemarketers leads to an answer too literal to be helpful.

For the OP: My girlfriend and I are cell only, but keep them on over night, just in a different room. We both use other alarm clocks though, so that might be a decent compromise: Your phone far enough away that you can't really hear it, tell your mom it's on, and wake up with a different method. Depends on how important accommodating your mother is to you.
posted by klangklangston at 10:41 PM on December 2, 2013

I don't know. I think there are plenty of scenarios where it IS serious and you CAN do something in the middle of the night. Personally, I'd feel like shit if, say, my best friend's house burned down in the middle of the night and she needed me to come get her and I didn't find out about it until 9am because I decided I'd personally rather sleep than leave the door open to help in a true emergency. The point of the midnight call is not, generally, "hey, come save my life with your medical skills," it's "hey, shit is going down and i need your help," and sometimes that help is a ride, and sometimes that help is going to hold someone's hand and sometimes that help is bailing someone out of jail. People generally don't make a 3am call unless they REALLY think they have to, and sometimes it's because they're scared. I hate the idea of my parents being scared and unable to reach me. This is why I have a $20 landline and only a very few people have the number. (Although I actually also LOVE my landline and it drives me nuts when people mock me for still having one.) But only you know that your mom will respect the concept of Emergency and not just start calling you at 8am for shits, which is something to bear in mind.

If you have that severe a telemarketing issue, btw, you should double-check that you're on the Do Not Call.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:46 PM on December 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

My phone is on vibrate at all times. I also live far away from family and most of my friends so if I got a call at 3 am there is nothing I could do. There are others who live nearer who are much more able to join them at the hospital for example. My family also shares my worldview on this, so there is no expectation that the person living furthest away be accessible at 3am.

The question isn't really if you are an outlier or not. The question is why your mother has all of a sudden started to worry about this. You may want to talk to her about what triggered that fear. You may be able to calm her down if you actually understand what's worrying her.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:47 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

> I don't have a land-line. Over Thanksgiving, my mother got upset at the thought that she couldn't reach me late at night if there were some kind of emergency - the dreaded "3 am phone call." I understand her worry, but I'm feeling very resistant to the idea of keeping the phone on at night.

The answer to your mom is: Yes, of course you'll answer the phone if she calls at 3 am, because that would obviously be an emergency. She just needs a little reassurance that you haven't cast her off into the trash bin like a piece of junk mail, so to speak.

Her fear isn't crazy, but getting into the nitty gritty of your phone settings is not going to help either of you. The totally honest truth is that your phone settings at night are exactly the same as they are during the day. Stop discussing the technical logistics -- whether the phone is off or on during which hours, whether it's muted or not, what happens when someone calls when the ringer is off, does it light up or not, blah blah blah -- because these details are just inspiring more murky uncertain anxious scenarios for her to worry about.
posted by desuetude at 10:55 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've had several health situations with my parents where one of them has called in the middle of the night. On several occasions I was required to do something in response - start packing and get in the car, phone the neighbours to sort out the unlocked house, phone the rest of the family. In two of these situations I had no prior knowledge of their health problems, and I was 23 so I wasn't exactly expecting them. One of these situations turned out to lead to my father's death. I would have felt awful if I'd had 6 hours less with him.

I still don't have my phone in the bedroom though, and I don't have a landline. If that's what it took to reassure my mum then I would do it, and in fact I did it for 8 years after these events.

I think you need to get a balance between being kind to your mum, and one day you might be glad, and others that might call during this time.
posted by kadia_a at 11:04 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

We each have a cell phone, and while we do have a house phone, it's not in the bedroom, we aren't likely to hear it at night, and only a select few people have the number.

We keep about the same hours you do, tending to go to bed at 1 or 2 am, and I and/or the kids are almost always up by 8 or 9 am.

Our house phone situation is sort of weird. Very few people actually have the number, and those that do, well, all their regular numbers are programmed into it with special ringtones. The "we don't know that number" ringtone is Fur Elise... in other words, if it's Fur Elise, it's not For Us. The only phone connected to it is in the living room, and it's hit and miss whether or not anyone would hear it at night. The kids and I answer it during the day; my guy never does, cuz he doesn't know any of the ringtones. (Though I just asked, and if it rang multiple times right in a row, he'd answer it no matter what.)

Our cell phones, though, are right in the bedroom, being used as alarms. Mine, the sound is always on. The guy's usually is, too, but he never ever answers it if he's sleeping - it doesn't wake him up. (Neither does the alarms. Those are mostly for my benefit.)

I have to have a phone within reach from where I'm sleeping - leftover anxiety after a house fire that I awoke to half my life ago.

Given that my mom and dad are older, my dad has already had one serious health issue, my sister has year-old twins that were preemies... yeah, the phone is always on at night. And they live within a mile of us.

Though, I have to say, it isn't always my sis' call that she needs me to come watch twin B cuz she's gotta take twin A to the ER... in early October, it was my guy's family. And of course, he didn't answer his phone. So his mom immediately called me - she knew I'd hear it and answer.

Glad I did. She'd just lost her sister and (adult) nephew to a nasty car accident, and the sole survivor, the nephew's teen daughter (who lives here) was sitting alone in a hospital 600 miles away. Her and her husband were within minutes of hitting the road, headed out to get the poor child, and no one had managed to track down the sister's husband or other son.

If you don't have people you're close to, or that you'd want to be notified about immediately, then no worries, keep your phone off. But if you have people that you're close to, and care about, especially family, and you'd want to know... well, then the answer is obvious.

I'd be pretty offended and hurt (and puzzled) if my parents up and said, oh, don't call us if there's an emergency in the middle of the night - call law enforcement and have them send someone out. Chances are that person is a good half an hour drive away, if they're not busy and have time for such a non-essential service, but no worries - it's not like we care whether or not you can get in contact with us immediately. And the same goes for you, too - we won't impose on you by letting you know when one of us is injured or sick or dying, at least not until a reasonable hour.

Um, no. That's not how families work, at least not any kind of (functioning) family I've ever heard of.
posted by stormyteal at 11:09 PM on December 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

3. Is there an obvious compromise or solution?

It's irritating that the only solution i know to this that's really perfect is on the iPhone, but there it is. When it's on "do not disturb" you can set it so that if someone calls twice within 3 minutes or so it rings through, but otherwise is on silent.

This is the perfect compromise IMO. No one who didn't REALLY need to get through would power call you like that, but you're not completely unreachable.

That said, i think the entire expectation of being reachable 24/7 in the modern age is freaking disgusting, unrealistic, unfair, and so many other negative words i could come up with or write about. I have a job where i'm on call, and several of the positions i'm interested in moving in to at other companies would put me in a similar position. My phone is set to ignore all but double calls from anything but work numbers, my partners number, and my parents numbers.

If my parents abused this privilege, they would be dropped off the call through list and have to call twice.

I think there is a compromise of something like that i'm saying, which i wish was a feature of more phones without a bunch of screwing around with google voice or some android app/mod. I think it's reasonable to be reachable on a double call like that in an emergency, but i also think it's reasonable to want to not be bothered with trivial stuff or "emergencies" and rightfully expect some peace and quiet when you're sleeping or even just at certain times of the day.

I have gotten remarkable pushback from people who were rude about this, and think that by not being reachable 24/7 i'm somehow shirking some social responsibility in the 21st century. Screw them.

How long would you say someone could be unreachable via phone before they are being irresponsible?

If certain people were made aware that they were going to be unreachable, then however long they said they'd be unreachable. Going camping in the middle of nowhere in satellite phone only territory for a week? TOUGH. If you just drop off the grid without letting anyone know why that's one thing, but it is absolutely not unreasonable to go "I'm unreachable between 1 and 9 except in emergencies, do not call unless it's an absolute emergency" and then use something like google voice or iPhone do not disturb to block out most calls.

This feature is actually critical to my life not making me irrationally angry. To the point that some of the money in my savings account is a dedicated smartphone replacement fund, so that if it inexplicably dies/gets broken/etc i can deal with it the same day, or at least within 24 hours or so. I had a lot of similar conflicts to this before i had worked out a solution to this, because i would generally err on the side of "No, my phones off, i'll deal with it in the morning."

And yes, i did that right through a parent being in the hospital. I'm much more apt to deal with a real emergency if i get to sleep through the night properly than if i get woken up in the middle, have trouble falling asleep again, and end up working on very little sleep for a day or more.
posted by emptythought at 11:47 PM on December 2, 2013

If it's a fire or medical or similar emergency, the most important call is to the services that handle such things; a call to friends or family is for support and notification, not immediate, time-sensitive rescue. If you live far away, there's even less you can do in real-time. If you live close enough to respond to an emergency faster than the professionals, I'd be very surprised, especially considering that you have to wake up and get dressed first.

So the late-night phone call where you can actually make a useful difference regarding the outcome of a tragedy in a very short timeframe is about as unlikely as getting a call from a telemarketer in the middle of the night. Which is to say, extremely unlikely. Still, that's not what your mother is concerned about; she's concerned about not getting the emotional support. That's just baked into people, and you're not going to be able to hack around that.

Try this experiment, then: tell your mother that you've thought about it, and decided to leave your phone on all night. Then for the next two weeks, turn your ringer on at night (loud enough to wake you if the caller is persistent, but not loud enough to be startling) and clear your missed call list. Each morning, write down how many people who have called you who are known to you (and presumably important in your life) and how many are unknown to you (telemarketers and wrong numbers.)

After two weeks, frankly, I'll be surprised if you have any numbers. Assuming I'm right, keep on going with the ringer on at night, knowing you'll be reachable, and that you can always change plans if you start getting late-night telemarketing calls. If I'm wrong...well, frankly, I'll be shocked. I've lived with people who had severe telemarketing/debt collection concerns, and the calls never came in the wee hours, and I've never once considered turning off my ringer -- and cannot remember one time that I got a middle-of-the-night phone call. Still, if I'm wrong, you can look at the number of unwanted calls you got and decide: is a separate phone/new phone number worth it to make your mother happy and avoid the calls, or no?

One last option, if your not-smart phone allows custom default/number-specific ringtones. You already use vibrate rather than ringtone for daily calls, so make the default ringtone something silent (or at least very soft), and do a custom one for your mother that's painfully loud. Adjust your nighttime volume accordingly.

Actually, there's an extra bonus option -- tell your mother you'll leave the phone on, and just leave it on vibrate -- but if that 3am call does come someday, you'll probably feel guilty about that.
posted by davejay at 11:51 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

How long would you say someone could be unreachable via phone before they are being irresponsible?

Regarding this specifically: if you have planned an extended off-line period, then as long as you've told the most important people in your life (so they won't worry) then any length of time is fine. If someone you care about absolutely depends on you and your ability to respond quickly is critical to their care, then no length of time is fine.

In most situations? We forget our phones in the car. Our phone batteries die. We sleep through the phone ringing, or accidentally leave it on vibrate. Or the phone is charging in the other room. There's no guarantee that you'll be available 24/7 even if you wanted to! In situations as I've just described, the out-of-reach time will vary from a few hours to the entire evening, and that's not you being irresponsible...that's just life.

Yes, some people may want us totally reachable at all times, but that's an expectation that is nearly impossible to fulfill. Luckily, professional emergency responders are at the ready, and better equipped than we are...and if someone needs your emotional support in the middle of the night, it's great if we can provide it, but there are no guarantees, and we'd really be better off if the emergency wasn't happening in the first place, but there's no guarantees about that either.
posted by davejay at 11:55 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

So get a smart phone? You can pick up old versions of new phones for very little.

If you go down this route, I'd recommend looking at the Motorola Moto G. It's very low cost off contract, but well specified and running the almost latest version of Android. Watch out for similarly cheap Samsung and HTC phones which are the same price but running 2+ year old software.

You can easily pick up a free app from Google Play which will do everything that iOS' "do not disturb" does (and possibly more).
posted by mr_silver at 1:37 AM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's irritating that the only solution i know to this that's really perfect is on the iPhone, but there it is. When it's on "do not disturb" you can set it so that if someone calls twice within 3 minutes or so it rings through, but otherwise is on silent.

Just for reference this a built-in feature on Samsung Android phones too - it's called "Blocking Mode" on my Galaxy S3. You can schedule a daily period of time where all calls and notifications are disabled, but certain contacts can be whitelisted for incoming calls. It doesn't have the Repeated Call function however.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:44 AM on December 3, 2013

There is no law anywhere that *requires* you to be reachable at all times. There is nothing "irresponsible" about setting your phone to silent mode or turning it completely off.

Your phone is for YOUR convenience, not for that of the rest of the world; don't change what you are doing just to make other people happy. Don't get a new phone just so you have one with a 'do not disturb' function, don't get a second pay-as-you-go phone just so Mom has a private number to contact you; because if you do either, it's pretty well guarenteed that she WILL repeatedly call you, "just to test" that she can indeed call you.

As you mentioned, you have multiple solid reasons for keeping it on silent, plus you check it frequently; until there IS a law that requires each of us to be hooked up at all times, you're fine.
posted by easily confused at 2:58 AM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

OP said "I'm a slave to my phone already for all these hours of the day, and it feels good to know it won't be bothering me while I'm sleeping. I'm reluctant to give that up."

Then that is reason enough not to. You being genuinely well-rested over the long term is the most important priority here. Handle your own oxygen mask first.

A sleep-deprived you cannot be as helpful to anyone.

Yes, it can wait until morning, whatever it is. The "3am parental death bed" scenarios are the outliers here - and when they do happen they are too memorable (cognitive bias), but they are just not common enough to potentially alter your long term sleep habits over them. (But if you are, say, the parent of a teenage driver waiting for them to come home at night? I could see keeping your phone on until they arrived home - that's a different scenario for a different fact pattern.)

At the risk of sounding terribly grim, we live in an era where most people do not die in an instant. They are often kept on ventilators or in hospice for weeks and months on end when they'd rather not be, and in fact this had gotten to be such a widespread problem that the voters in the states of Oregon and Washington enacted death with dignity laws - or to put that another way, there is often way too much time to say goodbye to a dying loved one.

This is a classic boundary issue. Your mother has a need for emotional security that is not being met - she's basically saying, "I'm getting older, I'm afraid of what that means, who will hear me in my hour of need?" Which is understandable, but I think her proposed "solution" for you to change your phone habits suggests she's misidentified the real problem.
posted by hush at 4:02 AM on December 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Another datapoint - we keep a phone on at night - one still living elderly parent and the number of late night phone calls as the other three got ill and died was significantly more than one. No one else calls late at night and being able to respond has mattered. I don't think it's an emotional security issue here unless that's my own - we have needed to be able to meet an ambulance at the hospital multiple times as someone's health care advocate. I think it does depend on your circumstances but for me it's a given that we need to be reachable.
posted by leslies at 4:19 AM on December 3, 2013

As you are interested: my husband and I only have cell phones and his is off completely overnight while mine is silent (not even Do Not Disturb mode). The only time that has changed recently is my daughter's first sleepover, where we kept them on.
posted by gaspode at 5:40 AM on December 3, 2013

Your mother, etc. reaching you in the middle of the night may not necessarily be about you being able to do anything in the moment as much as it is about continued, constant piece of mind. And even in the moment - especially if you are at a distance - it can be more about notifying and/or being comforted by/talking to a loved one.

Yes, if I am injured I am going to contact 911 - or someone else is going to contact 911 - but as soon as possible I am also going to contact my wife even though I wouldn't expect her to provide emergency aid. And then I would expect her to call family/friends to notify them and/or for her own comfort.

None of this means that you have to make a change in how you manage your phone.
posted by mountmccabe at 5:50 AM on December 3, 2013

My boyfriend's mom felt this way so we got a landline which was inexpensive and for which few people have the number. Is that an option for you?
posted by mlle valentine at 5:57 AM on December 3, 2013

I keep my phone off nearly all the time. Then again, I have a long history of hating phones. My household has gotten more spam/drunk texts/etc late at night than emergency calls........ but there has been a non-zero emergency 3 am call or two. Personally, I'm in the 'nothing I can do till morning anyway' camp, and my cell will remain off.
posted by Jacen at 6:14 AM on December 3, 2013

Response by poster: Well, it turns out that lying awake at night worrying that your Mom isn't going to be able to reach you if someone gets sick and that you're a terrible person for leaving her alone in the ER to suffer is ALSO not that conductive to great sleep, so there you go. Usually, I don't like to make day-to-day decisions based on a worst-case scenarios, but my Mom fretting over my unreachability is itself something real, as a few people pointed out.

I do think that this is in part a generational issue and that norms are shifting (which is why I added the part asking about what other people do) but for now the phone is on a quiet buzz that I think should wake me up should it ring several times, and I'll start looking for one of those Do Not Disturb apps that might work for my phone/thinking about an upgrade.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:48 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was just about to suggest the very thing you did - I'm cell-phone (dumb-phone, too) only and my cell is on vibrate at all times, waking or sleeping. If it vibrates a little during the night, I probably won't wake up, but if it vibrates a lot, I will.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:33 AM on December 3, 2013

Do you have the ability to download ringtones and assign them to contacts? If so: SILENT RINGTONE.

If you're willing to check the phone for calls during the day, download a silent ringtone and assign it as your default ringtone, then assign regular ringtones to the people whose calls you need to take.
posted by telophase at 8:02 AM on December 3, 2013

I work nights and Spousal Unit keeps dramatically different hours depending on mood, activities, or the phase of the tides, plus she rarely looks at her phone. My phone is on silent and in a different room when I am asleep; the "silent mode" app I use squelches every peep from my device so I don't use my phone as an alarm. My family knows to try my number once (since I might be on my weekend and up during the day), my better half's number once (who knows, might get lucky), and then to move on to other siblings and relatives. Since I now live in a different state and time zone from most of my family, the previously-low expectation of being able to reach me during "normal" hours has dropped to near 0. I even surprised my dad once by actually answering when he called and he said "oh, I was just going to leave you a message."
posted by fireoyster at 8:35 AM on December 3, 2013

I keep my phone on "vibrate only" all of the time. If there was an emergency where the vibrating near my head (the phone is on my bureau at night) isn't enough to wake me, my close friends and family have my husband's number and his phone will actually ring.

I did indeed get a literal 3AM death in the family call, and missed it. However, the family member was still just as dead at 7AM. And there wasn't anything I could have done in those 4hrs. Had my physical presence been needed, someone would have called my husband.

Highly recommend the "Do Not Disturb" function on the iPhone. I use it all the time (yes, even on vibrate) and it's nice to know that if it's ringing, I *want* to answer it.
posted by sonika at 9:30 AM on December 3, 2013

I keep my phone on but it's downstairs. IF someone calls once (drunk friend, wrong #, telemarketer) i may or may not hear it and probably think it was a dream until i saw the missed call teh next morning. IF it is a true emergency, family would call multiple times which would be enough for me to drag my ass out of bed, fall down stairs, and see what's going on.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:52 AM on December 3, 2013

I live 2,000 miles away from my parents and siblings. I also have a wife who works night shifts as a nurse. Like you, I put my phone on vibrate at night and keep it next to the bed.

If my extended family members have an emergency, there's nothing I can do to help. There's no real reason for me to find out someone was in a car wreck at 3 a.m. as opposed to 8 a.m. (except in the extremely unlikely scenario that they will die in seven hours and if I made it on the first flight out, I might possible get to see them one last time).

If my wife has an emergency, I still have the kids at home to take care of. I can't just run off and leave them. So odds are she'd call her mom, and her mom would come over to watch the kids while I ruse to the police station/hospital/wherever. Her mom has a key to our house and would wake me in such an instance.

So your 'normal' is the same as my 'normal.' I don't want to put up with the hassle of people waking me up ("Oh! I forgot you're two hours behind us!") just in case.
posted by tacodave at 3:04 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I get butt-dials, booty calls and misdials all night long if I don't turn it off, so you're not alone in this.
posted by ravioli at 4:21 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

If there is a real 3am emergency, she can ring them and they can visit you in person.

Unless you can actually do something about the emergency, this is a complete waste of resources.

It's not unknown for "police" to notify someone about a family illness or death. (which isn't an actual emergency, if the person was ill the first step would be to help them instead of contacting people, and being dead isn't exactly an emergency any more) I actually had police come to my house on a holiday weekend looking for someone their family was having trouble reaching who likely to have been visiting me. However, they were campus police, not regular police, and probably had very little to do over the holiday weekend.

I wouldn't count on it being something regular police just go out and do.

It seems like there would be very few emergencies you could actually help in, but it does happen. I know someone who had a stroke, and with the neurological complications involved was only able to manage to call one of their immediate family, who was able to call emergency services for them. The family member knew details about their (not at home) location, which may have helped them be found sooner than tracing a call location.

In general though, it seems unlikely that you would be able to do anything to help if you did receive the 3am phone call.
posted by yohko at 11:35 PM on December 3, 2013

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