The phenomenon of butt dialing is a thoroughly modern dilemma. Also sometimes called pocket dialing, the term refers to the act of accidentally making a call with your mobile phone. As an idiom, butt dialing is unfortunately specific - anatomically speaking - but it can happen whenever you jam your phone into you pocket, your purse, wherever.
Many are the embarrassing incidents that have resulted from butt dialing. For instance, I have a story about a butt dial, a car radio, and a cappella renditions of both "Magic Man" and "Crazy on You." Classic rock station. Two for Tuesday. Anyway.
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An interesting-slash-scary report from the BBC this week suggests that butt dialing may be a much more serious problem than we realized. According to some surprising quotes and figures in the report, the accidental dialing of mobile phones is causing a huge strain on 911 services in the U.S. and emergency call centers worldwide.
For example, a recent FCC research study cited in the report suggests that up to half of all incoming mobile phone calls made to New York City 911 centers are the result of accidental butt dials. The BBC report quotes FCC commissioner Michael O'Reilly comment's from the research study:
"If my anecdotal experiences are remotely accurate," O'Reilly writes, "it would mean that approximately 84 million 911 calls a year are pocket-dials. This is a huge waste of resources, raises the cost of providing 911 services, depletes morale, and increases the risk that legitimate 911 calls - and first responders - will be delayed."
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The BBC story also cites similar testimonials and figures from San Francisco and London. In a survey of workers at one San Francisco 911 center, nearly 40 percent of operators said dealing with accidental mobile phone calls was the single most troublesome part of the job.
Part of the problem, according to research, is that most mobile phones are required to have the ability to make an emergency call when locked - or even when the phone is not actively connected to a commercial carrier network. Besides allowing for more accidental butt dials, this encourages hoax callers, since the call becomes more difficult to trace.
Researchers from Google recently released a full report on the issue, detailing their work with San Francisco's Department of Emergency Management. You can read all about it here.