Phone tag is a phenomenon in which two parties attempt to contact each other by telephone, but neither is able to get a hold of the other for a conversation. Both parties may leave a message on the answering machine or voicemail of the other, and request a call back. This continues for a period of time, often with the two parties exchanging attempts to have a real-time conversation. The name derives from the playground game tag, where players chase one another in turn.
Phone tag became common in the 1980s with the advent of messaging technologies and caller ID. It was seen as having advantages in that people can leave and receive messages at their convenience rather than having to find a common time with the other party to have a conversation.
Phone tag is the art of calling a person only to receive said persons' answering machine. They then call you back only to now receive your answer machine. This process is repeated until one person reaches the other, or both parties give up. It's just like playing a game of tag from when you were young. 
With phone tag being possible, people have a choice of when they want to return calls they have received. They may also decide which calls they wish to return and which to not (similar to call screening). Many recipients of messages simply choose to not return certain calls.
- People and computers XIV: usability or else! : proceedings of HCI 2000; By Yvonne Wærn, Sharon McDonald, Gilbert Cockton; page 18
- The Irwin handbook of telecommunications management; By James Harry Green; Chapter 16: Why Phone Tag Occurs; pages 325-26
- Urban Dictionary; By SWZ, September 30, 2003
- Career Quest for College Students; By Robert T Uda; page 55
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