Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You!

27 Apr

NOBODY calls me anymore — and that’s just fine. With the exception of immediate family members, who mostly phone to discuss medical symptoms and arrange child care,  (…), people just don’t call.

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.

“I literally never use the phone,” Jonathan Adler, the interior designer, told me. (Alas, by phone, but it had to be.) “Sometimes I call my mother on the way to work because she’ll be happy to chitty chat. But I just can’t think of anyone else who’d want to talk to me.” Then again, he doesn’t want to be called, either.  (…)

“I remember when I was growing up, the rule was, ‘Don’t call anyone after 10 p.m.,’ ” Mr. Adler said. “Now the rule is, ‘Don’t call anyone. Ever.’ ” Phone calls are rude. Intrusive. Awkward. “Thank you for noticing something that millions of people have failed to notice since the invention of the telephone until just now,” Judith Martin, a k a Miss Manners, said by way of opening our phone conversation. “I’ve been hammering away at this for decades. The telephone has a very rude propensity to interrupt people.” (…)

Even at work, where people once managed to look busy by wearing a headset or constantly parrying calls back and forth via a harried assistant, the offices are silent. (…)  And in today’s nearly door-free workplaces, unless everyone is on the phone, calls are disruptive and, in a tight warren of cubicles, distressingly public. (…)

“When I walk around the office, nobody is on the phone,” said Jonathan Burnham, senior vice president and publisher at HarperCollins. The nature of the rare business call has also changed. (…) “But now they tend to be things that are very focused. And almost everyone e-mails first and asks, ‘Is it O.K. if I call?’ ” “You pretty much call people on the phone when you don’t understand their e-mail,” he said. (…) Phone call appointments have become common in the workplace. Without them, there’s no guarantee your call will be returned. “Only people I’ve ruthlessly hounded call me back,” said Mary Roach, author of “Packing for Mars.” (…)

Whereas people once received and made calls with friends on a regular basis, we now coordinate such events via e-mail or text. When college roommates used to call (at least two reunions ago), I would welcome their vaguely familiar voices. Now, were one of them to call on a Tuesday evening, my first reaction would be alarm. Phone calls from anyone other than immediate family tend to signal bad news.

Receiving calls on the cellphone can be a particular annoyance. First, there’s the assumption that you’re carrying the thing at all times. For those in homes with stairs, the cellphone siren can send a person scrambling up and down flights of steps in desperate pursuit. Having the cellphone in hand doesn’t necessarily lessen the burden. After all, someone might actually be using the phone: someone who is in the middle of scrolling through a Facebook photo album. Someone who is playing Cut the Rope. Someone who is in the process of painstakingly touch-tapping an important e-mail.

For the most part, assiduous commenting on a friend’s Facebook updates and periodically e-mailing promises to “catch up by phone soon” substitute for actual conversation. With friends who merit face time, arrangements are carried out via electronic transmission. (…)

Many people don’t even know how their voice mail works. “I’ve lost that skill,” Ms. Birnbach said. “I have no idea how to check it,” Ms. David admitted. “I can stay in a hotel for three days with that little red light blinking and never listen. I figure, if someone needs to reach me, they’ll e-mail.”

“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.

Telephones were first sold exclusively for business purposes and only later as a kind of practical device for the home. Husbands could phone wives when traveling on business, and wives could order their groceries delivered. Almost immediately, however, people began using the telephone for social interactions. “The phone companies tried to stop that for about 30 years because it was considered improper usage,” Dr. Fischer said.

We may be returning to the phone’s original intentions — and impact. “I can tell you exactly the last time someone picked up the phone when I called,” Mary Roach said. “It was two months ago and I said: ‘Whoa! You answered your phone!’ It was a P.R. person. She said, ‘Yeah, I like to answer the phone.’ ” Both were startled to be voice-to-voice with another unknown, unseen human being.

Source.

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