Aha! I knew it was you who called

Ann Treneman on the nation's latest obsession

Share
Related Topics
Do you have a secret? If so, don't pick up the phone - 1471 is stalking the land. That is the number for "call return", introduced only last December, and now being dialled a staggering 8 million times a day by Britons who want to find out who called them last.

This facility can be helpful if you suspect someone is having an affair, skiving off work or just plain lying about their whereabouts. There have been cases of divorce after wayward men rang home and claimed to be delayed at work. A quick 1471 showed that they were, in fact, in a pub down the road.

"It's the first thing I do when I get home from work," says one young woman. She is 22 and speaks for her generation: an Oftel survey shows that 80 per cent of people aged 16 to 24 use call return, compared with 50 per cent of those aged 65 and over.

"There is something driven about 1471," says Guy Fielding of Queen Margaret College, Edinburgh. He attributes this to the Zeigarnik Effect - after the German psychologist Elizabeth Zeigarnik - which says that our memories only let go of tasks when they are complete. In the case of 1471, the "conversation task" begins when you realise someone has called you; only by ringing back can you complete it.

The embarrassing bit is that we are all floundering in an etiquette vacuum. What is the form when you just can't stop yourself from returning a call but have no idea who you are ringing? "Who are you?" seems a bit much when you have placed the call. And what if you ring someone but suddenly decide you cannot cope and hang up? They ring you back and there is a moment of phone hell.

Saddest, of all is the demise of the romantic notion of telepathy. "Isn't that strange? I've just tried to call you," says the person you are ringing. It's not destiny, though, just digital dialling,

The most explosive territory of all is the 1471 message, "the caller has withheld their number". Who does this? Obscene callers, for starters - and call return has cut the number of these and hoax calls by 20 per cent. Then there are the spies, the cheats, the plain paranoid.

You can block individual calls by dialling 141 beforehand, or you can have all calls blocked permanently. Less than half a million lines out of 27 million have opted for this. Some large companies do so for technical reasons, but the rest are the rich, the famous, the weird and the frightened. Even they can choose to override the block by dialling 1471 before a call. For once with a British utility it really is nice to be in control.

Not so for the scriptwriters. The plot of Thelma and Louise would crumble without the frantic attempts to trace calls as they head west. In Mission Impossible, the most sophisticated spies in the world try to track a call from Tom Cruise. But why all this fuss when they could just dial 1471?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn