Does anyone like talking on the phone these days? It doesn’t seem like it.
I contributed more than my fair share to the phone bill as a teenager, thanks to summer camp friends who lived a few area codes over. I never stressed over making those calls, or having to exchange brief niceties with a parent or sibling, or leaving a message on the answering machine.
But something about the phone changed, and I don’t know what it was. Maybe the introduction of the cell phone–now people can be anywhere when you call them. That seems trivial and unrelated until you think about all of the new ambient noise that includes. Before, if you called someone’s landline, they would actually have to be home to take the call. Even the loudest family, I think, isn’t as loud or as sound distorting as traffic or crowds. Also, it might be my imagination, but the sound quality on a cell phone is a little (or a lot, depending on your reception) worse than a landline. Ambient noise + iffy quality + the never-ending problems with poor reception = a lot of “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
Maybe it was growing up. By college I connected with friends via the Internet instead of the phone. The phone was now either for chores or for tedium: booking appointments, telemarketers, calling into work sick, etc. Phone calls meant I was getting called in to cover on my day off or something equally unpleasant.
Whatever the reason(s), by adulthood I had a proper aversion to using the phone. Anxiety, even, would not be far off the mark. Even as an introvert, my friends and social connections are important to me; much as I love my hidey-hole, once in a while I need some company to share it with. I love hosting parties and lecturing people about my niche interest. (Do you want to know about caves? The subjunctive mood? Greek mythology? I’m your woman.) This enthusiasm surprises people sometimes, and they wrongly assume I’m an extrovert. Nope nope nope. Outside of a controlled scenario that includes boundaries and scripts, I’m a mess. Surprise interactions with new people are stressful, not exhilarating. And “surprise interactions with new people” pretty much defines telephone calls.
Now I’m a freelancer. People need to be able to get in touch with me, so I include my phone number in all of my advertisements. This means I have to be open to random phone calls at any point during the day. Not only that, but phone calls from strangers and unknown numbers–calls that, as a student, I could afford to screen. Especially since an unknown number usually meant some kind of marketing scheme or other. Not anymore. Now that unknown number might help me pay the bills or have dinner. (Or it might be the tax office, which is not nearly as profitable but nonetheless important.) Someone once said that you should do one thing every day that scares you. For me, it’s answering my phone. (Hah, if only I were getting daily calls from new customers!)
Of course, with the advent of cell phones came texting. A godsend. A text message isn’t instantaneous–it’s only as fast as you can text–which is sometimes an issue, but it has the advantage of permanence. If you give me directions over the phone, I’ll have to scramble to write them down or ask you to repeat them a few times to make sure I won’t get lost. If you text me, I can just open up the message and access that information anytime I want. I can take all the time I need to formulate my response without seeming rude or inattentive.
Fortunately, most other people seem to be in the same boat as me. Whether it’s because of the tension in my tone, or because of their own personal preferences, a new customer almost immediately switches to text messages after the initial phone call. Is it because more and more people have developed an aversion to phone calls? Is it because we’re all immigrants struggling with a shared foreign language? Have I lucked out and attracted a client base with a similar temperament to mine?
I don’t know, but keep on texting.