Talk on the Phone? That’s So 2005.

My husband was out of town this weekend so I had plans Friday night to leave the cubicle, come home and settle into a different computer at a different desk—this time in my living room—and write all night. But when 5 o’clock rolled around, I couldn’t do it. I needed a break, some brief respite between the PC and the Mac—preferably one that involved a glass of wine—so I would feel like I did something with my day other than work. So I grabbed my cell and did what any self-respecting 27-year-old needing to kick back would do. I called Mom.

When I complained that, even after having met so many potential new friends, I still didn’t have someone to call after work on a Friday just to see what they were up to, Mom asked me why I didn’t just buck up and phone one of them.

And then it hit me: “I don’t have their numbers!”

It’s true. Most of my new friends are still email and Facebook only. We write back and forth to set up a date, then we meet, then we email to say what a nice time we had and lets do it again and when are you free? I imagine we’ll eventually exchange numbers and advance to texting, but I honestly don’t know if phone calls are in our future.

On Sunday, as if on cue, the New York Times published this article about how technology might be diminishing children’s friendships. They write, “Children used to actually talk to their friends…But now, even chatting on cellphones or via e-mail (through which you can at least converse in paragraphs) is passé. For today’s teenagers and preteens, the give and take of friendship seems to be conducted increasingly in the abbreviated snatches of cellphone texts and instant messages, or through the very public forum of Facebook walls…” The article goes on to say that two-thirds of teens are more likely to use their cell to text than to talk. And while 54% say they text friends at least once a day, only 33% talk to their friends in person that often.

It’s pretty staggering stuff. But I’m a decade older than the high end of the 12-17 group that qualified as teens in these studies, and I too have adapted to a text-only lifestyle. Yes, I email. But when it comes to friends, I really only talk on the phone with the ones who live in other cities. It’s a means of staying in touch. With local pals, text messages are exchanged to suggest and confirm plans. When the name of a Chicago-based friend pops up on my caller ID, my first thought is generally “I hope nothing’s wrong,” instead of “How nice that they’re calling.”

And though I think this is a problem, I don’t know if I’ll do anything about it. I feel like calling is an imposition. I picture New Friend cooking dinner or or doing work or watching TV, and I don’t want to be the name that provokes a “why is she calling me?” response. So for now I stick, regrettably, to making new friends via new technology.

Do you talk to local friends and make plans via phone calls or texts and emails? Do you think the teen technology takeover is trickling upward to adults? If a 16-year-old saw the “Telephone Hour” scene from Bye Bye Birdie she would even recognize those spiral wires as telephone cords? I doubt it.

30 Comments

Filed under 21st Century Friendships, The Hard Facts, The Search

30 responses to “Talk on the Phone? That’s So 2005.

  1. In 2007, I started hearing the phrase “ambient intimacy” to describe the type of connectedness that people have when using social media networks to keep in touch with friends.

    I bookmarked the sites that introduced me to the phrase: a post on the blog Disambiguity (http://bit.ly/cCeVF4) and a story in the NY Times (http://nyti.ms/cb40i6).

    This seemed to coincide with the launch of Twitter. Some were puzzled by this new technology, wondering why anyone would want to read the intimate details of other people’s days. Now we see how users have managed to turn Twitter into a mammoth tool for networking, branding, etc.

    I love finding old friends on Facebook, catching up with them, learning about their lives. Some days, though, it feels more hollow. Connected, but not.

    Much to ponder!

  2. hb

    This is interesting, and I know it’s true for those of you under 30 (or 40?), but if you want to find a BFF whom you can call on short notice, don’t you have to start by actually calling? How will you get there if you don’t take that first step?

    • Of course, you are right. Perhaps my dilemma is longing for an old-school type friendship, while trying to deal with new-school technology. Or, more specifically, new-school technology etiquette…

  3. CLS

    That is so so true and i hadn’t really thought about it before…I really only talk to my oldest and bestest friends on the phone and even with them we often resort to texting, bbming and gchatting when it seems, for some reason, the easier/better way to communicate. I find that the phone starts to become a scary thing. If its someone I haven’t talked to in months it just feels like a burden and an email seems so much easier…but after reading this I feel like that is a cop out. It really is the best way to stay in touch and keep friends close if you ask me…

  4. While I will always be a fan of speaking at length and in person, I see nothing wrong with quick quips via text or Facebook status (or Twitter, for those who use it). At least it teaches people to get to the point. That said, nothing bothers me more when I’m spending time in person with someone and all they do is keep their nose in their phone.

    BTW, I don’t find it annoying or surprising at all when local friends call. The nice thing about caller ID is I can choose not to pick up the phone if I’m not in the mood to talk.

  5. Ana

    Oddly, I too feel like I’m imposing when I call someone, yet I don’t feel imposed upon when I get a call—I love it! If I’m busy, I don’t answer right away, but I appreciate the gesture. Just as our parents probably thought a hand-written letter was more personal than an email, I think a phone call to check up on a friend is more personal than a text.

    With new friends, the phone does feel intimidating, and I prefer to chicken out and use email or texts; but I do think the level of connection is lower with these forms; you lose the give & take of a real-time conversation—the subtleties in tone & pitch that are essentially for really empathizing & understanding someone. You lose the spontaneity of having to come up with something to say on the spot in response to what was said (the scary part, but a good social tool) & to smooth over awkward pauses; you can take minutes/hours or even days to compose an email or text, and go back and delete & re-write—you can’t do that in real-time, and its good to learn to deal with that.

    If our kids aren’t engaging in these kinds of in-face or even on-the-phone conversations, are they going to lose social intelligence? How will they know if something is a joke if “lol” is not written next to it, or how someone is feeling without🙂 or😦 to clarify?
    Many jobs require interacting with people—so these skills aren’t just about social life!

    • I agree with so much of what you say. I love it when people call me–especially if it’s a local friend, I’m extra flattered–but I feel like a pain calling someone else (and even though I love getting calls, I do often just hit ignore if I’m doing
      something else, which is another suddenly ok thing that probably is causing the problems.) As for the personalness of communication, it’s tiered I think — email is more personal than text, phone is more personal than email, face to face is more personal than phone…

      The questions you raise about kids are just what they ask in the article. Will these new skills help them be connected later in life, or diminish the qualities of their interactions?

      • Cheryl

        I’m getting to this from a recent link in another one of your posts, Rachel (not sure how I missed this). I think the thing with the phone is that people don’t always know when to call – if you call someone at work, a) you’re interrupting them at what they do for a living (which is kind of awkward), and b) they may not be able to talk or call you back.

        If you try to reach them after work, they could be at a child’s game/event, at the gym, in a class, or doing something else, and do you call after 8 p.m.? Saturdays and Sundays are iffy – people don’t like to answer their phones when they’re relaxing with family, or they could be in the middle of church or at a restaurant.

        Even if you leave a message, then they have to call you back, and they face the same questions – when is a good time to actually talk? Sigh. And that doesn’t even touch on the whole issue of whether they really want to talk to you in the first place, or if they don’t see you as the “friend” you think you are (or would like to be), and then if they don’t call you back, you’re left wondering if they just got busy, forgot, or didn’t really want to call you back…..

  6. Oh how I used to love to talk on the phone! With kids, however, the timing of a phone call is so important (and kids have some sort of a whacky timer that goes off when you are on the phone). I notice that I talk on the phone more with my friends or family who don’t have kids vs. those that do–just because of schedules I guess. But, to me, the receiving of a phone call (if at the right time) ranks up there with receiving a handwritten note…it makes me feel pretty darn special!

  7. Nicole Larsen

    It’s funny to me that even (especially?) with existing friends, when the phone rings, the receiver most often immediately thinks, “OMGosh! Something must be wrong!”
    Or worse, they don’t answer (after replying to a text), and then we find ourselves in self-doubt quick sand, “Is she avoiding me? Am I bothering her?”

  8. JB

    Your musical theater metaphors always make me laugh! The Telephone Hour–what a perfect image!

    I think I’m old-school when it comes to these things. I’m only 29 but I live in a university town, so the average age of people around me is somewhere near 20. I am adapting to the texting lifestyle, but I’d much rather make plans over the phone. You can get all the details figured out in one fell swoop and you don’t have to try to decipher any cryptic abbreviations!

  9. I love e-mails and texting, but I do talk to my long distance friends over the phone. I have found one local phone friend and our chats are refreshing and enjoyable.

    Your post got me thinking about phone calls before caller id was invented. We’ve become a “screen” everything society, so perhaps, that lends to the hesitation in picking up the phone. There isn’t the same excitement and anticipation of guessing who is on the other line. I miss those days too.

    • Yes! I was just wondering when screening calls became socially acceptable and it was most definitely the intro of caller id. I remember the excitement of running to the phone when I was little to see if it was for me….

  10. Lynda

    Rachel,

    I can’t lurk and comment anonymously anymore– I love your blog!! You bring up so many topics close to my heart. If you are ever in SF, please don’t hesitate to email me, to see if you can text me, to see if you can call me, to see if we’re available to chat on the phone. I mean, let’s get a drink.😉

    Being in my early 30’s, I am definitely a phone person from my core. I remember my best-friend and I, would talk on the phone for ridiculous amounts of time in HS, and even up until our recent heart-breaking “break-up” (but that was last week’s topic). Most of the friends (and family) that I have nowadays, we only chat for 15min at most, every other week (unless there’s a topic to talk about), and confirm plans via text. It makes me nostalgic of the old days, and of that “spontaneous” (phone) friend we all yearn for. The ones where we both really “like” each other, and can’t wait to talk about, well, nothing, for hours. And, after we talk, we meet up right away, for another several hours of doing, well, nothing.

    Life gets busy, with partners, kids, and long days of work. I, too, always make up excuses to not have time to text, more or less call. So albeit, I get nostalgic, I often have no desire to chat with the really great gals I do meet (hanging here and there is enough). But, when the mutual chemistry, and transition into calling each other to just say “Hi”, watch what’s on the TV, etc, comes along so smoothly, I know I have a PBFF right there. I think I’ve been lucky enough to have met a couple this year. You mention wanting that 30min go-to spontaneous hang-out BFF– I always value that pick up the phone at the end of the day and talk about my, umm, hang-nail for 20min friend. The connection and comfort you feel cannot be replaced by all the texting, waiting for a response, and planning. It really helps when you’re in the same time-zone, too.🙂

  11. Lola

    I just want to say how much I love this blog. Even though I still live in the same city as my BFFs I find myself in the same situation as you. Primarily because we’re at different stages in our lives – namely they have families and I am single! Anyhow, I am definitely old-school when it comes to the phone. I absolutely love hearing my phone ring!

    Texting is most definitely convenient in some situations, but I’d so much rather receive phone calls. I you’re making plans, it’s much more efficient than texting back and forth. But mostly it’s nice to have that connection with someone, to know they care enough to want to spend that time speaking with you. (Just like how it feels when receiving a handwritten thank-you note or even a letter through snail mail). When you’re texting/chatting/emailing it’s so often not the only conversation that’s happening so you tend to not have (or give) the person’s full attention. So much is lost in text/email/chat as well (especially since I have a pretty dry sense of humour). I opt for a call almost every time, though unfortunately my BFFs have jumped on the bandwagon, which frankly drives me crazy.

    The flip side of that though is when you’re in a situation where a call is not possible it’s nice to be able to send (and receive) a “random” text that lets the other person know you’re thinking of them.

    • Thanks so much Lola! You’re right, the random “I just saw a [insert random inside joke here] and thought of you” text always makes me smile. But I do agree that sometimes my dry humor is misconstrued over text or email. My husband is so sarcastic that he refuses to use IM and tries not to text because he thinks he is always misunderstood.

  12. JenD

    I seriously hope all the kids coming up with this technology will know how to be civilized adult humans someday! I have noticed today’s kids look a lot paler than we used to. There’s no healthy pink flush from playing ball in the street or riding bikes after school and that’s such a shame. I can remember when I was a kid, I HAD to be polite to grown-ups even if whatever they were blabbing on about was boring as math class. You had to at least PRETEND to be interested. Kids don’t have to do that anymore. I find it so annoying that all the kids in our family are allowed to sit at the dinner table with their phones either texting their friends constantly or playing video games with them over the internet. I’m sure they all have personalities but I haven’t seen any evidence of them since they were all still in diapers.

    Also, I can definitely relate to not wanting to be “she who always calls at a bad time” but since I am naturally endowed with the gift of lousy timing in general, I do hesitate to pick up the phone more than I ever did when I was a younger adult. Part of the problem for me is that I don’t have kids and pretty much every friend I have does, which makes them super-busy at any given moment of the day. In that respect, email/text/twitter/fb are all a blessing, albeit a mixed one. I think people get so caught up in their daily lives and their virtual online lives they seldom realize that months have gone by since we’ve actually talked on the phone! My online friends that I do speak with on the phone (and sometimes even on a LAND LINE when we really want to kick it old-school), have to make a chat-date with me before calling. Life has no spontaneity anymore – especially since, as you said earlier, the advent of caller ID – and I don’t like it one bit!

    Sorry for the long, cranky-old-lady rant…and to think, I’m not even 40 yet!

    • I was right there with ya, JenD, until the last line. So 40 is when you are an old lady? I am SO laughing out loud right now…I knew what you meant, but as a recently-turned-40 gal, that just cracked me up. I remember when I thought 40 was old…and now it seems so young.

  13. I rarely, if ever, talk to local friends. I am just not a phone person. I am kind of awkward on the phone, to be quite honest. So I’d much rather makes plans over email or through texts and then meet up with them v. talking on the phone. I am not even all that good at talking on the phone to friends that live in other cities. I really try, but I just hate the phone!!

    I feel like working has ruined the phone for me, though. I used to love talking on the phone and would talk on the phone with friends for hours. Now I have to talk myself into making phone calls…

  14. So many good comments, I don’t have much to add (but of course I’m still commenting…)! Just wanted to say that I loved this post because I really hate the phone. I don’t know why – I like to talk. A lot. I used to think I hated it because I had to be on the phone all day for work, but I do not have that excuse anymore.

    Every time I have a phone conversation with a good friend I feel so glad that we talked; and 99.9% of the time, my mood is completely lifted. And yet, I still hesitate to pick up the phone. When I hear it ring, I tend to ignore it (without looking at caller i.d. first, so rest assured I’m not screening YOU, I’m just not answering calls. Period.). I also hesitate to make calls for many of the same reasons you and your readers have already mentioned.

    I love texting and email, but in spite of that and in spite of my dislike of the phone, I do worry that we’re losing the art of conversation. That would be a terrible loss. Our teenage babysitter recently told me that she almost never talks to her friends – they only text. Crazy. I used to get in BIG trouble for staying up too late talking on the phone to people I just spent the entire day with. Things are different now!

  15. I am still an old fashioned phone talker– with friends who live 10 minutes away to friends who live across the country. There’s just something so great about catching up, hearing their voice, etc. That said, I also do my fair share of texting. My 15 and 13 year old cousins are practically incapable of doing anything else. Its amazing how they view the use of it. Did you know that high schoolers who do nothing but text to each other “date” each other that way. It makes me want to cry because my cousins really do struggle to have a conversations face to face with some people.

    • Wow. I did NOT know that about the text-dating. That is just crazy talk. I do remember being in fourth grade and never talking to the guy I was “going out with” but still… who knew!

  16. This is such a great discussion! My friend Tina is a talker – a seroius talker. You can’t get on the phone with her and get off in less than an hour. I don’t take time for long conversations (so much to do!) so we rarely connect. I don’t want to lose her as a friend, but we communicate in different ways. I’m better on Twitter, Facebook and emails. She just calls.

    Interesting to read everyone’s thoughts!

    Thanks for sharing this great topic!

    Debba / Girlfriendology.com

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  21. Laura

    What puzzles me is almost everyone I know “hates” the phone yet everywhere you go, people are constantly on their cell phone, particularly while driving (very unsafe). So, who are all these people talking to???

    I’ve never been a big phone person and was one of the pioneer screeners in the 80s when all I had to work with was an answering machines (no caller id). However I used to call people, it was the only mode of communication beside snail mail. The last several years I barely call anyone except my mom. It’s not that I don’t want to, like others I feel like I’m intruding. So, I text or email unless it’s urgent.

    Despite never being a big phone person, I do miss the excitement of coming home and checking messages on the answering machine. I also miss being able to go out and be completely disconnected. I have 2 teenagers so I can’t turn off my phone when I’m out but I really wish I could sometimes!

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