Please Don't Call Me... Maybe

6 years ago

I've been going on for the past few years to anyone who will listen about how much I hate the telephone. Just last week, a blog friend I'd never met and with whom I needed to communicate about something important said something like, "You're not one of those phone haters, are you? Because I attract all of you."

And I had to tell her she was right.

Of course I'm a communication junkie otherwise. I text like crazy. I'm on Twitter a lot and I still love (nice, fun, intellectually engaging) email (that offers me money, tells me I'm pretty and/or isn't a forward.) The first thing I remember from the Internet at all besides dancing GIFs of puppies is AIM, and I'm still on Gchat a ridiculous number of hours a day. I will even talk to you in person, when pressed. But on some day I don't recall during the past several years, I joined the "Don't Call Me" club.

You know the type: send me an email, a text, an owl, anything but please, not the telephone. You may be the type, and if so, you know exactly what I mean, and what a horrible affliction this is.

I'd talk to my sister and my mother, but that was about it. When friends suggested talking on the phone for anything other than immediate, purposeful plan-making, I'd shiver. I can procrastinate a phone call to a basic service provider in more time than it would take me to travel to an appointment and spend an hour in the waiting room dorking around on the iPhone I won't talk into. If phone avoidance was a competitive event, I'd finally be able to medal in something.

The more I delved into social media and digital communication, my tendency to pick up the phone to purposely talk to someone shrunk to essential conversations (Hi Mom!) If I can handle it by email I will, and by text, even better. Can I tweet you without being completely obnoxious? Awesome! And I can accomplish this all while walking the walk of the righteous hatred towards rogue public phone talkers. I've glared countless times at the inevitable cell phone screamer standing way too close to me in line in the coffee shop -- "OMG I KNOW RIGHT? SERIOUSLY OKAY? WHAT? ARE YOU THERE? OMG RIGHT?"

I mean, who were these people? The people of the... telephone? It's much more difficult, it turns out, to delete an unfortunate conversation.

So I read Pamela Paul's anti-telephone screed in the New York Times last week, and nodded my head in righteous agreement. Yeah! No phones is where it's at! Who needs that talky thing? Not us. We run cold, hard electronica, man. Even Miss Manners, Judith Martin, was a source, claiming that she's always preached against the telephone and its "rude propensity to interrupt people."

And then I got to the comments.

A surprisingly measured and distressingly sad batch of Internet article commenters lamented isolation from the outside world and loved ones by disability, age, distance or some combination of life factors, worsened by the loss of telephone time and refusal of, well, anyone, to pick up the phone. Parents said their kids wouldn't talk to them. People wanted to hear the sound of a voice in a new city where they didn't know many people, and certainly not friends. One woman wondered if a friend had ever liked her at all, if it was that easy to ratchet down to words on a screen.

Some combination of East Coast springtime pollen and the knowledge that I'd give countless more dollars than I had to talk to my grandma on the phone -- the only mode of communication she ever knew -- again made me tear up. I began to wonder what was wrong with me.

I guess it does seem a little crazy that in a gadget-obsessed era where it seems like every other commercial is for a mobile telephone, that so few people want to talk into them. I'm the first to admit that my iPhone's relatively ear-unfriendly design and so-so reception isn't one of my top priorities because I'm most concerned about how efficiently it downloads my email and hooks me up with Angry Birds.

And yes, it can be a time suck. I've had probably hours of eye-glazing conversations with people that lasted many minutes beyond the point of boredom and repetition, and of course there are the telemarketing calls and other intrusions. But tell me my email is a well-oiled efficiency machine and I will laugh, because it's not. And anyone who argues the superior ease and clarity of texting as a communication device has never tried to tap-tappity-tap out plans for an hour, find someone in a crowd, or watched a teenager in a texting argument.

It isn't pretty.

I knew I liked my best friend more than other people because I'd willingly talk to her on the phone. It turns out that I still do. I'll call her back if a call drops, and I always answer unless I absolutely can't -- and when I actually hear the thing ring, which she'll tell you is less often than it should be. She doesn't live that far away, but our lives are busy and it's surprisingly hard to see each other frequently. Sometimes a ridiculous conversation with her means I survive my workday so much better than I would have without it, and I firmly believe that a few of our well-placed phone calls have saved us both from your garden variety Tuesday afternoon bad decision or self-sabotage. That's just how it is, thankfully, with us.

I admit that the telephone brings other good and necessary things. I recently bit the student loan bullet and called all three of my confusingly situated servicers and got my consolidation problems solved. I talked to a few people in professional situations recently and got answers that just wouldn't have translated to email or chat. A conversation with a friend on the opposite coast a few months ago found me speaking words aloud in a Michaels parking lot about changes I needed to make. I'm not sure I'd have made so much progress without her presence and advice that day.

And of course, my takeout Thai lady is always comfortingly there for me on the other end of the line.

When I talked to that longtime blog friend for the first time last week, the conversation lasted an hour and a half. I was off from work, sitting on my couch with a cup of coffee and dreadful news blaring from the television. I heard her chat with a delivery man, and drop the word "consigliere" into workaday conversation, no less, in an entirely ingratiating Southern accent. The conversation meandered to good places, the pauses were cool, and we attended to business, as well.

And I have to admit, I got worlds more information than I would have from a tweet or an email. I talked and I listened. And when I hung up, I felt so much better. I felt like I knew her so much more, and different than I did from her tweets and emails.

Now, I'm not saying I'll go back to my high school days of hours sprawled on the floor yakking with whomever will listen, or that I'll even leave the "Don't Call Me" club. I don't have the time or the inclination to change my patterns up too much, and I'm too conscious of the demands on other people to expect that anyone would or should be endlessly on the other end. Besides, I won't give up my magical electronic communication tools. I'll still need the unlimited texting plan, and that might be my first choice most of the time.

But there can be some balance -- and as usual, less bitching -- here. Sometimes, instead of always going for the written down thing or the easily-sent text, I'll think over whether something matters enough to warrant using my spoken words. I live alone. I'm not an island. I can still consider whether I just want -- maybe even need -- to hear a particular voice, or whether someone might actually want to hear mine.

The option remains to punch in some numbers, and if that person's willing, the connection can still be there, like magic, or a good friend.

Photo Credit: Kennymatic.

Contributing Editor Laurie White writes at LaurieWrites. Her photos are on Flickr.

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