A recent nationwide survey has just revealed that there were 789,345,678, unreturned telephone calls made in 1977, an increase of 10 per cent over 1977. Phone experts believe at the present rate that the figure of 1 billion could be reached by 1980.

Mark Stampel is the head of a non-profit organization named "The unreturned Telephone Call Institute," whose main function is to try to investigate all unreturned telephone calls, and to decide on the basis of this information whether there is life on earth.

He told me at the UTC Institute's plush estate in Middleburg, Va, the fact that someone does not return a telephone call doesn't mean that that person does not exist. "It only means that the person who made the call doesn't exist for the person who didn't call back."

It took me a few minutes to digest this.

Stampel tried to spell it out in layman terms. "Let us assume Pleeder calls Arragant to get a job. Arragant's secretary says that Arragant is in a meeting and will get back to Pleeder as soon as possible.

"Arragant has no intention of calling back Pleeder. Pleeder waits by the phone - one hour, 24 hours, a week. No word from Arragant. He calls back again. This time Pleeder can't get through the switchboard to even speak to Arragant's secretary.

"Arragant's a cruel man," I said.

"Aha," said Stampel. "You would think so. But tha reason Arragant has not called back Pleeder, is that he is waiting for a call from Byer. Arragant is trying to sell Byer a shipload of railroad ties. Arragant keeps asking his secretary if Byer has called."

"Byer hasn't?" I said.

"Of course not. He doesn't want Arragant's railroad ties."

"Why doesn't he call and tell him so?"

"Because he doens't want to tie up the phone, as he's waiting to hear from his girl friend who hasn't returned his call for three days."

"Why?"

"Because Byer won't get a divorce from Mrs. Byer, and the girl friend has decided that she has had it with him."

"That's reasonable."

"The girl friend, having made the decision to give up on Byer, calls Altman whom she met at a party, and leaves word she's available for dinner. Now she's waiting by her phone for Altman to call back."

"Why doesn't Altman call her back?

"He can't remember what the girl looked like and he's afraid to take a chance that she may be a dog."

"Altman sounds like a male chauvanist."

"He is, except that he's afraid of his mother. He's particularly frightened because she hasn't answered his call."

"Why not?" I wanted to know.

"Because Atlman didn't call her the week before, and his mother is going to make him pay for it. Besides, she's waiting to hear from the Board of Health to complain because the furnace in her apartment house is on the fritz."

"And of course they don't call back."

"You have to be kidding. The heating inspector for the Board of Health is sitting by his phone waiting to hear from the major's deputy assistant as to whether he can hire more people to handle telephone complaints."

The major's deputy doesn't call him back?"

"No, because he's waiting for a call from Washington, which will never come, telling him whether the city can have the funds it needs, not only for the health inspector, but for Pleeder who still doesn't have a job because Arragant never answered his call."

"On the basis of what you just told me," I said to Stampel, "Does you institute really believe there is life on earth?"

"Well, there's something out there," Stampel said. "And I have to believe they've trying to communicate with us, even it they refuse to do it by telephone."