A TGB READER STORY: In the Vortex
Among Generations

The Alex and Ronni Show Plus Fear of Phone Conversations

In the summer of 2018, Brigid Delaney, writing in The Guardian complained that talking with a friend on the telephone was a “time suck” - too tedious to be bothered with.

Instead, we should all be using WhatsApp or texting, she says. When her phone rings,

”I feel such a wave of animus and fear that I am unsettled for the rest of the day. Usually I don’t answer it.”

Amimus? Fear? A couple of weeks ago, a different Guardian writer, Melanie Tait, at first confesses to a similar response:

”There are lots of things to panic about with a phone call,” she writes, “chief among them being: what if we run out of things to say, and there’s, God forbid, silence?

But Ms. Tait has now discovered the joys of phone chats and her goal is to explain their attraction and benefits to the likes of Ms. Delaney which apparently means most of the younger generation. Discussing a friend who calls her in the evening, Ms. Tait writes,

”We’ll spend a lot of these conversations trying to make each other laugh, but I’ve also noticed we’re both able to share a little more in this telephonic friendship than we do in real life (our real-life friendship also being a very robust one).

“The lack of eye contact means some questions are easier to ask and some things are easier to reveal.

“It’s like being transported back to high school in the 90s, where you’d be at school all day, and at night, extension chord dragged into the pantry while the rest of the house slept.

“Phone D&Ms (“deep and meaningfuls”) were one of the great emotional releases in pre-mobile teen life, a chance to talk away the existential drama of the school day.”

Of course, people of our age have always known that and personally, it's how I keep my far-flung friends close – with long, sometimes two or three hours at a time, phone conversations where we solve all the problems of the world together. Until next time.

Tait winds up her essay as a thoroughly convinced convert:

”Tonight, headphones in, a phone call or two means I’ll discover something new about someone I care about, laugh at least three times, reveal something I wouldn’t tell anyone else and maybe even discover a new Liza Minnelli impersonator I’d never heard of.”

* * *

My former husband, Alex Bennett, and I had our biweekly Skype chat yesterday. I think we spent way too much time on my health predicament, but he doesn't agree.


Comments

Thanks for all of your thought-provoking postings, Ronni. After 15 years, your blog is still the first that I read.

"Of course, people of our age have always known that...."

Not all of us old people enjoy telephoning. At age 82, I still break out in a cold sweat when my phone rings. (My phone only rings if the call is from someone in my contacts list, a setting that I made years ago.) I will walk a mile or two to keep from making a phone call, and Verizon told me (the last time I checked) that I average using my phone about 11 minutes per month! Last week, for the first time that I recall, my phone told me that I had been on the phone for over an hour (by one second) - on a call with customer service (bad line with cross-talk and person who had a tenuous grasp of English) when a computer company had failed to email the key for some software that I'd had pre-installed on a computer I bought, and was setting up for, my husband.

Even when I was quite active as an amateur radio operator, I preferred using Morse code to using a microphone.

Different strokes....

No phone calls for me!

I did some type of administrative work for 40+ years. In the days before headsets, I actually had a callous on my left ear. I was a travel agent and I'd hold the phone between my left ear and shoulder (using one of those stick on phone accessories to make it less painful) while I took notes with my right hand or worked on our computerized reservation system. I've also been realizing lately how much the constant interruptions in my admin work has contributed to an "ADD" mindset. It generally takes me a long while to accomplish anything since my focus lasts for only for a short while and then I jump up or move to another project. I sort of specialize in doing multiple things at once. Being a heavy Internet user has also contributed to this multitasking. I too find phone calls to be a "time suck". I can only do one thing at a time when I talk on the phone. Even back in the mid-90's before social media and texting, I'd talk on the phone to this guy I was dating (boring...) and watch TV on mute with the Closed Captions on. I get so many junk telemarketing calls, I don't pick up unless I recognize the number or the person is in my contacts. As I age (70 in December) I am amazed at the digital divide in our age group. Many of my friends don't use social media, don't text and some don't even like email. I secretly consider them Luddites and TBH, my connection with people who insist on phone communication is very weak.

I remember my teenage years when my best friend and I had long phone conversations almost every night, rehashing what had happened that day and all the dramas of adolescent life. Those kinds of calls continued into my young adulthood, long before the Internet and cellphones, especially since I remained single through my 20s and thus didn't have kids to attend to.

These days I hardly talk on the phone at all, preferring face to face if I have something personal to share. If I need to exchange simple info with friends, I typically use email. I do text, but I'm not good at thumb typing, so that's pretty slow.

For me there is also another reason not to talk on the phone, especially for extended conversations. Many of my friends don't have landlines anymore, and I've found that with cellphones there is a slight delay in the other person's voice, so that I find myself starting to talk when they're really not finished. My sister and I speak on the phone about once a week (we live on opposite sides of the country), and we're constantly overlapping without meaning to. I find that annoying.

When I was working, I loved it when we first got email, because then I could email someone I was trying to make an appointment with and they could get back to me when they returned to their office. No more "telephone tag." Remember that game?

I read your provocative ( aren't they all?) post, Ronnie, and felt compelled to weigh in because I really don't like phone calls. Face to face is ideal and emails, texts come in a strong second. One person mentioned delay in the cell phone. Yes! I have noticed this as well and that overlap has me thinking the person isn't hearing all I am saying, add hearing aids to the mix and well, so goes the phone call.

Face time...I don't find appealing but it has been some years since I did skype which I did not like at the time. Perhaps it has improved.

Good though that we live in a day and age where there are choices.

Have a happy day All,

Karin

I love phone calls with dear friends, however few of them call any more. Most have died.

As a hotel PBX operator for a number of years, I had to get over my fear of talking to strangers really quickly. I love messaging and email, but find a long phone "D&M" (I'll have to remeber that one) with a loved one (family or friend) extremely satisfying. Yes, the lack of eye contact, for me, makes for deeper and more personal conversations. Don't care much for Skype or FaceTime as I usually dislike the way I look on camera, lol!
To each his/her own!

I grew up in a small, family owned, company providing, of all things, a telephone answering service. I started answering phones at about 6. At 5PM, when the business owners went home, many phones rang at once. We had over 100 individual phones on the wall, plus a "concentrator" from "Ma
Bell" for an out of the area service we provided. So, to make a long story short, I learned verbal communication at a young age. After over 70 years, I still converse better over the phone than in person. We had rotary dials. Now I see that non facial conversation is the norm!

I used up my lifetime allotment of phone calls when I was a teenager. Then came years of work and demanding, must-answer phone calls. I'm one of those shy introverts who doesn't like to initiate or answer phone calls. I feel they are an unwanted, uninvited intrusion. The only calls I answer now are from immediate family. All the rest (as many as 6 spam/scam calls a day) get blocked and don't ring at all. Ahhh, peace and quiet at last. These days I prefer email and where appropriate, texting. I use texting a lot since discovering the voice-to-text option.

It’s funny, I probably talk to 99% of the people I know thru email—but have 2 very dear lifelong friends who I only talk to on the phone. And when we do get on there, it’s never less than a couple hours. The irony is, I’ve never asked for their email address & they’ve never asked for mine. Maybe it’s because if we DID have it, we wouldn’t have those wonderful phone chats.

As very convenient as email is, sometimes I miss the days before it. Phones—rather, landlines were such a part of daily life, people didn’t see them as “time-sucks”. When I was a kid, I often played “call screener” for my mom. The phone would ring, she’d say “Doug if that’s Signal Finance, tell them your parents aren’t home. If that’s my mother, tell her you have no idea where I am or when I’m coming back.” I’d say “Mom, please don’t make me fib to Grandma…” She’d respond “Do as I tell you, now hurry up & answer it!”

I’d pick up the phone—sure enough, Mean Grandma. (While my paternal grandma fell out of a Norman Rockwell painting, my maternal grandmother was evil.) I’d say “Hi Grandma Barnhart, Mom isn’t home.” She’d say “Liars go to Hell, put your damn mother on the phone.” I’d insist she wasn’t there, she’d say “What a nasty little boy you are…” My mom would stand there watching me grimace, then say “Give me the damn phone—Mom what the hell do you want!” Then they’d stay on there for 2 hours!

PS. Love the Alex & Ronni show, as always. You guys are great. And Ronni, I appreciate all the health stuff you share with us!

I was a customer service rep for 15 years. I answered over 100 phone call a day. The less I have to talk on the phone the better. You want to hear the sound of my voice? Come and speak to me in person.

I have too many ways to communicate with people: phone calls, emails, texts and letters. I know people who rarely check their voicemail. Or, their email. And, then there's the aquaintances who I connect with via FB messenger or DM via twitter. There's just too many ways to connect. I don't like it.

I have a friend who I used to email with and now we text. Texting for me is for letting people know I've left, I'm on the way, I've arrived or I'm waiting inside. It's not for for letting someone know how my day or week went. I spend more time editing my texts to her than writing them. When we talk on the phone, it's for an hour. But, now neither she nor I make much sense after dinner because we are both more tired than we admit. Another change.


In high school, one of my friends lived 2 miles out in the country, and I was 2 miles in the other direction, across our small, Minnesota town.

She only had a party line. When I called her after school (and whatEVER did we find to talk about for an hour???) it would be difficult to hear her, as there were so many "rubber necks" listening in on our conversation.

That was solved (we thought we were so clever!) by a combination of pig Latin, then switching to "carni" and then to "double dutch". One by one we would hear more clearly as the series of clicks indicated people hanging up! So at that point, we would say, "Ok, we can talk normally now!" and did. No doubt none of the curious people... there must have been twenty on each party line... cared one little bit about what two silly high school girls had to say in the first place!

Now I am 90. And nearly all of my once-close friends are dead!

I love catching up with family members and friends by phone. Our voices are such an asset, showing nuanced shades of meaning that are lost in emails and texts. I am amazed by how easy it is to state something you don't mean at all in emails and texts, and before I retired I spent a lot of time teaching those younger than me to be careful with their phrasing so as to ensure clarity to the reader. I do much more texting now but find it tedious, with my phone autocorrecting every.single.thing. I write! My brother, long known for being on the quiet side, and I now routinely have two hour phone calls. Much more fun than sending each other long emails, IMHO.

I agree with Nina about preferring phone conversations to the various non-verbal ones prevalent today that are lacking the cues from a voice — tone, inflection and so much more. Emails readily lead to misinterpretation often with messages seeming hard and cold, lacking in many ways. I tend to think what semblance of privacy that may be left is best found in personal private phone conversations and old-fashioned snail mail letters.

I’ve had my share of annoying phone calls in business — taking TV viewer calls when an overflow had to go to all departments when programming upset some. Then, years later there were literally hours talking to India trying to resolve personal computer problems, all the scammer calls until I stopped answering them. It’s difficult to reach a real person on the phone now to quickly resolve business problems as I’m cycled through pre-recorded messages, generally taking much more time than if I had just reached someone in the beginning.

I welcome personal phone calls from family and friends. We usually establish whether or not the call is convenient or if we should talk another time. Also, no one gets upset if we have to unexpectedly end a conversation for any reason. I recall the days when a long distant call cost a lot, so they were rarely made and only for emergencies. We would all take turns for a brief greeting to a family member or friend across the miles to take advantage of the call.

In more recent decades I’ve especially enjoyed calls from friends on the opposite coast, especially recall a couple friends on the east coast who couldn't sleep sometimes and with earlier west coast time difference would call for hours long conversations — including one being first a caregiver for spouse with cancer, then later having cancer themself as did the other friend ultimately, and some others who would call. Additional friends and family called, too, but most are all dead now, so I miss hearing the phone ring for long conversations from those I care about far away.

Despite the DNC list, telemarketers still get through, and DNC is no help in avoiding political calls or charitable solicitors. Now that phone numbers can be easily "spoofed", Caller ID is no longer reliable. So, unless I'm pretty sure I know who's calling, I don't answer.

I suppose that campaigns use phone calls to raise money because it works, but not with me and I suspect not with others who have limited financial resources. So far I've purposely avoided donating to any candidate, cause or party because, if/when I do, I can expect an ongoing DELUGE of phone calls, emails and snail mail demanding more. Eventually, as the 2020 election gets closer, I probably will donate to selected candidates because defeating tRump and his fellow travelers is a top priority for me, but I WISH candidates would accept what I can give and stop calling!

A phone call with a good friend can lift my spirits, and I'd also rather set a time and date with a handy person on the phone, not e-mail back and forth 3 or 4 times. Sometimes phone is easier! I do love to hear the voices of those I love, the tone. If I don't feel in the mood, I don't answer. Easy.s

I am 72 and I have ALWAYS hated talking on the phone.
So for me texting is such a great way to stay in touch with friends.

My wife does talk to friends and relatives on the phone. But anti-phone curmudgeon that I am, I only pick up for my wife, sister, our kids, and grandkids. Everyone else texts and no one complains,

You look and sound good, Ronni.

I’m with the majority in that the ringing of the telephone strikes me with fear and dread. I don’t know why because I grew up at a time when phoning friends after school was a privilege and when one waited in suspense and longing for the phone call from that special boy (then didn’t know what to say). Nowadays, although my preference is email because it allows me to organize my thoughts and to appear much more intelligible than I am, the phone is sometimes a necessary evil.

I confess to screening my calls and I am still in mortal dread of having to phone my insurance company or homeowner’s association, but I needs must overcome my urge to run at the sound of ringing because phone calls are my only personal contacts with adult children who live far away. Calls usually last for an hour or two—thank goodness for the evolution away from “long distance” to “unlimited talk.”

But the objection raised by some, that it’s impossible to do more than one thing while talking, doesn’t apply in my case because, being a congenital multi-tasker, I can fairly easily surf the internet or do a Times crossword while talking.

. . . Especially your laugh.

I also hate the phone. I feel shackled to it. It's not that I can't take live human interaction; I love talking with someone for hours face to face. But the phone makes me feel like I have an iron collar and chain around my neck. It may be because I know some people who abuse it: once they get you on the phone, you can't get them off. They pour out the contents of their obsessions for 40 minutes or an hour and a half. And they often don't even ask before they launch whether you have other irons in the fire. And they don't give you a breath to break in and explain that you do.

Ironically, FaceTime and the like are somewhat better because they resemble a real visit more. I don't know what it is about having a real-time visual that breaks that awful chain of the auditory channel.

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