Q: I work as a systems-support programmer for a major computer company, so I am often on call -- most ostensibly by carrying a personal paging device, more affectionately known as a beeper.

As you are aware, many professionals are likewise blessed in today's time-conscious society. When in possession of said device, I feel awkward in attending almost any gathering (for fear of interrupting the event) and in finding the proper way to excuse myself should I indeed be paged.

A: The etiquette rule is that business does not take precedence over socializing.

A person on call should not accept invitations to seated dinners, weddings or other highly structured events in which a premature departure would leave an obvious hole.

Do not carry a noise-making beeper any place where noise is disruptive; silent beepers that vibrate to call attention to themselves are available.

Plan ahead so that your exit is unobtrusive. If you are going to the theater, make sure you get an aisle seat; if you are at a large party, slip out with an apology only to the hosts.

Finally, the possibility of an obviously untimely departure from any social event, for no matter how noble a cause, requires an advance warning to the hosts that you might be called away, and a profuse apology if you are.

"I'm terribly sorry -- when you work at the White House, your life is not your own -- I hate to leave, but the president insists that I go there this minute for an emergency session" is an offensive statement if the initial apology is omitted.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.