Party Line

The other night I was calling a friend through WhatsApp (a popular messaging app), when another call came through on the actual phone. I rarely use my smartphone for actual phone conversations so it was new for me to have more than one call come through on different platforms. The call was still ringing on WhatsApp when I answered my phone without knowing what would happen. (Turns out the WhatsApp call disconnected when I accepted the incoming call.)

Later that evening, I was using Google Hangouts to chat with a friend (yet another messaging service I use) when another call came through on the phone. I accepted the phone call, again without knowing what would happen to the Hangout call. I kept my phone conversation brief and generic, imagining that my friend on Hangout was able to quietly listen to everything. It reminded me of a time before smartphones and call waiting. I’m not old enough to have experienced “party lines” (shared phone lines from decades ago), but I do remember when call waiting first became a thing and how many calls were accidentally merged instead of being switched seamlessly from one to the other.

When I’m talking on the phone and another call comes through, I have three options:

  1. accept the new call and disconnect the existing one;
  2. accept the new call and put the existing one on hold; or
  3. accept the new call and merge it with the existing one.

However, when calls are coming through on different apps, these options are not offered so I’m not sure what is supposed to happen.

When I answered the phone while on Hangout, the Hangout call was put on hold and my friend couldn’t hear anything. However, when I switched back, I couldn’t tell she was on hold and tried to call again through Hangout. Eventually we reconnected, but it wasn’t as easy as it could have been if both calls had been on the same service.

Using different messaging apps (WhatsApp, Hangout, etc.) has been great for keeping in touch with friends who live in other countries because calls are free. And many of the apps also support video calling. However, it does get confusing trying to keep track of all the calls, or to remember who to contact through which app.

Remember when phones used to just be for calling people?




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