At my house, we flinch when the phone rings. Then we look at it. And wonder who the hell might be, you know, USING IT. To CALL US. Why would you DO THAT? When you could text? Or email. Or DM on twitter. Or send a Facebook message. Anti-social?
Not really. I am hugely social. I never bloody stop being social. But somehow, the phone has become….well, intrusive. Inappropriate. Something.
Rick Morton investigates……
The phone call is dead. Well, dying. It’s intrusive. It’s, ahem, uncalled for. And who really needs it anymore anyway? If you want to stay in touch you’re more than welcome. Just don’t call. Send an email. Bash out a text. Click send. Hit enter.
But what happened along the way that made voice – voices! – so bloody in your face? The American telegram company Western Union refused the telephone’s patent in 1876 (‘this ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us’) and then later realised its terrible mistake.
By 1877 voice was cool. Voice was where it was at. Britain didn’t think so (‘we have more than enough messenger boys’) but more or less people were wondering how they could get themselves one of these telephone jahoobits and whether their friends had one too so they could talk about penny farthings and the local barn dance.
Fast forward well over a century and listening intently on a phone call is just plain boring.
Pamela Paul from the New York Times agrees. In fact, she’d be happy if no one called her again for general chit chat:
“It’s at the point where when the phone does ring — and it’s not my mom, dad, husband or baby sitter — my first thought is: “What’s happened? What’s wrong?” My second thought is: “Isn’t it weird to just call like that? Out of the blue? With no e-mailed warning?”…
…In the last five years, full-fledged adults have seemingly given up the telephone — land line, mobile, voice mail and all. According to Nielsen Media, even on cellphones, voice spending has been trending downward, with text spending expected to surpass it within three years.”
The phone call has been transformed from a catch-up to a catch-them-if-you-can. You can avoid them if you’re savvy, by ignoring the call altogether or refusing to set up voicemail. No voicemail, no message and they’ll have to call again. Another call you can ignore. Enough of this telephone tiggy and the caller (hopefully) will get bored and leave you alone.
Maybe growing weary of the telephone grew out of a lack of etiquette. But what is the polite way to make a phone call anyway? There are those who will simply call, believing that their voice is of such grand importance in your day that you will pick up, smile and then chat luxuriously about all and sundry. There are nervous callers. Those who place no stock in their ability to be wanted so they’ll check first. By email. By text. A meek query spelled out in letters. “Is it OK if I give you a buzz?”
Pamela Paul asked about the issue of phone rules in her piece:
“When the telephone first appeared, there were all kinds of etiquette issues over whom to call and who should answer and how,” Dr. Fischer, a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told me when finally reached by phone. Among the upper classes, for example, it was thought that the butler should answer calls. For a long time, inviting a person to dinner by telephone was beyond the pale; later, the rules softened and it was O.K. to call to ask someone to lunch.”
Those rules continued to adapt. Now it’s perfectly OK to arrange an entire outing via text message. Or a 21st birthday party by sending Facebook invites to 100 people. Or tickets to a pantomime of kittens using nothing but semaphore flags.
But a phone call? Ugh. It’s so…so…needy.
In the days when all we had were landlines, at least people knew you were home when they called. Now, they’ve got as much chance of getting you at home as they do of launching a can of baked beans to the moon. By themselves. You could be shopping, jogging, at work or at a nudist’s retreat for all they know (where would you keep your phone?) and simply have no time for them.
The Nielsen research for the United States speaks volumes, particularly the graph which shows voice minutes vs texts sent by age group. It starts with the young’uns barely dialling anyone and sending more texts than they have cents and completes a massive reversal at the mid years before reaching the seniors who are clearly muttering, collectively, ‘what on Earth is a text’?
Is the phone call just too annoying now? Do you envy those who don’t have a mobile? Have you changed your phone habits over the years? More importantly, what are your tactics to avoid a lengthy phone call?