The New Social Etiquette: Friends Don’t Let Friends Dial Drunk

To the list of the unforeseen hazards that seem to plague the information age, we can now add another: “drunk dialing.”

This late-night cellular faux pas joins such exalted company as the “mistaken dial” (when your mobile phone, inadvertently prompted, dials a number in your address book by mistake) and the annoying ring tone that can interrupt big job interviews or Communion service.

But unlike its predecessors, drunk dialing usually limits itself to times long after the close of business and beyond the daily commute. It is in those dark hours of late night and wee hours of early morn, when most people have retired their cellphones for overnight charging, that intoxicated revelers flip open their cellphones and dial into regret.

A 30-year-old writer stumbled into Piazza Navona last year after a four-course Italian meal and six glasses of Brunello. Armed with a global cellphone — the better to make calls to headquarters in New York — he decided to call one of his bosses to proclaim his adoration for la dolce vita. “Dude,” he slurred onto his boss’s voice mail, “I just wanted to tell you that I’m in Rome right now,” more slurring, “and I am loving life.” Click.

Too often, the call is to an ex, usually to pronounce loudly that the caller is over the breakup. Or to authority figures, including parents. My sister Elizabeth reached rock bottom when she dialed our dad at 3 a.m. on a weekend night out.

Last month — after 95 percent of respondents in a survey of some 400 of its customers admitted that they drunk-dial — Virgin Mobile started offering a service to its Australian customers prone to “dialing under the influence.” For a small fee, subscribers can enter a three-digit number and then the number they want their phone to be blocked from dialing. The ban lasts until 6 o’clock the following morning.

People who know people with a drunk dialing problem often end their Saturday nights running interference for their friends. I have been asked on more than one occasion to hold a cellphone hostage once intoxication devours its owner’s better judgment. But — like most people in that less than sober situation — I usually cave in to pleas for its release.

Drunk dialers can be pushy — not to mention indiscriminate. They call anyone who might answer, leave messages for those who don’t and continue to plumb the entries in their phone books until they are finally greeted with a sleepy, oftentimes cranky voice. In the sober light of day, some try deleting the phone numbers of people they want to avoid calling, only to learn that there are some digits even a few martinis won’t let you forget.

The mixture of cellphones and alcohol also increases the unfortunate chance of accidentally rousing a boss or a landlord whose name happens to alphabetize in proximity to a more personal acquaintance. A photographer friend once misfired a racy text message intended for his girlfriend to a rock star whose phone number he had stored while making arrangements for a photographic session. (Inebriated text-messaging does at least have the advantage of confronting offenders the next morning, as they come face-to-face with their own blunders. Jumbled letters that seemed to form a meaningful sentence at 3 a.m. stare back at them like a surgeon general’s warning about excessive alcohol consumption.)

Drunk dialing has grown so rampant now that, just as abuses of cellphones prompted a new code of ethics for public conversations and new laws for road travel, it has elicited various tips and cures. A Web site called offers a phone number that people can call to leave their drunk-dialed message, which is recorded and placed on the Web for everyone’s listening pleasure.

Another suggestion posted on the social networking site advises those with a predilection for drunk dialing to write down phone numbers they are prone to calling, delete them before going out, and then put them back into their phone the next morning.

Obviously, the real problem here is not with gadgets of instant gratification, but with consuming too much alcohol. It’s probably not a good sign that most of the proposals for reform focus on the technology, not on the drinking. But until we manage to end inebriation, we can at least work on protecting the rest of the world’s right to uninterrupted sleep.

Source: NY Times/ By Carol E. Lee