We don’t answer the phone anymore. At least, I don’t.
Now, if it’s my cellphone and one of my friends’ names pops up, or my kids’ faces, or my HUSBAND (SURPRISE! I HAVE ONE OF THOSE NOW), well of course I answer that. Because I know who it is. And if I’m at work and I can see that it’s a coworker calling me (names and extensions display), yes, of course I answer the phone. But any other number? No, never. I don’t answer the phone.
I answered the phone religiously for sixteen years at the office, talking with costume designers and their assistants, magazines and the like. My job was to place my company’s products in print, on TV shows I loved (like True Blood), and movies I didn’t (like Twilight) (apologies to Twilight lovers everywhere, but I guess vampires have to fit in with my very specific tastes).Vampires aside, I was on that phone, jumping to whenever it rang, dropping everything to find out the particulars of what and when and colors and sizes, then back on the phone to track everything down and hustle it where it needed to be. Eventually I passed this set of duties off to someone who spent half her day on the phone with editors and costume people, and did it happily. I missed parts of that job–there is a true sense of triumph when you make a great placement–but I didn’t miss all that time on the phone.
I used to talk to friends on the phone quite a bit, back when I could use my cell phone in the car. I’d call Sue every morning on our commutes. She’d fill me in on her extraordinarily active dating life. I’d listen to her stories while trying not to run over the people who lived on the street and therefore thought they owned it, and could therefore walk in front of moving cars with impunity. I judged them for endangering their lives, but the truth is I was endangering my own with all that talking and driving. I have stopped that.
I used to talk to men on the phone, back in my earlier online dating days. The conversations were invariably awkward, but I realized I could save time and grief by talking on the phone with prospects before I met them, because 60% of them would be immediately disqualified. So I did that for awhile. Did you know you can tell if someone is on the spectrum almost immediately on the phone? Well, you can, don’t ask me exactly how, but I was always right. And then the general phone-avoidance attitude took hold, and it stopped being an option.
The only people who can reliably count on me for phone conversations are my daughters–and very often, they do Face Time. Occasionally I plan a phone call with a friend, which has to be scheduled as carefully as a mammogram or a blood draw, and is approached with a similar level of apprehension. In the ten years I’ve known Shannon, I have called her exactly once out of the blue, because her mother was ill and I wanted to know how things were going. We were both so intensely uncomfortable that I vowed to always text first to give her warning. I AM GOING TO CALL YOU, SHANNON, I AM SO SORRY ABOUT THAT, PLEASE MENTALLY PREPARE YOURSELF OR MAYBE TAKE A BIT OF XANAX. (she doesn’t take Xanax) (that’s me) (just to be clear).
For twenty years, April and I would reliably talk on the phone somewhere around the holidays. She lived in Oklahoma, and I lived in Oregon, and we were both busy with life, husbands, kids and (in her case) a meaningful career (I didn’t do that). But we found time for at least one phone call per year. Once she called in later January and asked what I was doing. I said, “Oh, just laying on my bed with my newborn baby daughter.” She said, “Oh, how sweet.” That’s how sparse our talks were, that I could have conceived and birthed an entire child without her knowing. Now she lives in Oregon, and we are in contact much more often. We get to see each other! But when I call her, she says, “Hello?” with dread. She is AFRAID when I call, thinking it’s bad news about a family member or one of my dogs.Do I only call when there’s bad news? Or is it just that we usually text, so it’s got to be something awful driving me to dial the phone? (not that anyone dials the phone, or hangs up, but you know what I mean)
I am supposed to have a theory, here. And I’m working my way to one, and it has to do with the ubiquity of communication.
When I was young, a long distance phone call was a BIG DEAL. I usually received one per year from my maternal grandparents on my birthday. That was it. When I was 19 and got my first phone (I lived without one from age 15 to 19), I could afford one long distance phone call per month. I had to plan that call and make a decision and stick to it, because at 35 cents a minute, that was an expensive call.
And then something happened, all tied up with cellular communication. Cell phones went from being expensive luxuries with roaming charges and charge-by-the-text plans, to what they are now–a replacement for landlines that have no roaming costs and free long distance and unlimited calls and data and texting. It’s free and constant and we have choices on just which way we want to talk–by text, email, instant message, facetime or Skype, or actually putting a phone to our ears and speaking (though most of us put it on speaker, but anyway). And this is supposed to be great, yes? But why, then, are we ducking each other?
We are inundated with opportunities for communication. It’s too much. We have overloaded ourselves. We can’t stand it. So we don’t answer the phone anymore, and I am not sure there is a fix for this. I wish there were, because I loved talking on the phone–but I can’t stand to do it anymore.