Thursday 14 December 2017

Why It's become taboo to talk

WHEN I was in America at Christmas, disaster struck: I couldn't receive texts from my family and friends in the States.

This was a serious issue, because texting was much cheaper than checking my email or posting on Facebook. I had already gotten a message from Vodafone -- texts from Ireland had no problem finding their way to my phone -- warning me that I was close to breaking the bank. All I was doing was seeing had anyone tried to contact me by scanning the contents of my inbox. I wasn't downloading 48-page PDFs or trying to upload photos.

As I was managing several meetings and meals with friends in Manhattan, and trying to stick to a schedule that didn't have much wiggle room, I had to resort to phoning people.


To my surprise, the overriding reaction to this method was. . . annoyance. I don't think they were annoyed that it was me, but by the fact that I was using my voice to get in touch. I began to wonder when we'd stopped using phones for the purpose for which they were created: talking.

It took me a handful of phone calls before I caught on, but there was a definite attitude that came across when a call was picked up. It was hesitant, brusque, and curious all at the same time. Since I've been paying attention to this in the past few months, I admit that I do the same.

If a number comes up that I don't recognise, I actually stop and consider for two or three rings. Who is this? What's it about? These are questions that are easily answered if I actually take the call, but the suspicion and hesitation nearly trump taking the risk of answering.

Also, anytime I get a phone call from abroad, I am certain it is bad news. I'm not so far gone that I let the voicemail take the call, but there is always a little clench in my gut when I see the number of a friend or family member from far away.

I remember when phone calls used to be all about connection, opportunity, and strengthening relationships, and just having a laugh, and it seems such a shame that we're losing our voices.

I thought it might be a generational thing, and so I checked in with my 19-year-old friend Annabelle.

"I've only got two friends that I'll chat with," she said. "I'll ring them to talk, but otherwise ... ," she shuddered at the thought of actually speaking with any of the other pals in her well-stocked contacts' list. "It's simpler to text, or to post," she added. "It's quicker, and then you meet up with the people anyway."

That seems positive: we speak less over the phone because we spend more time in each other's company. However, are there special problems that arise through the use of text and email? Can this new way of communicating be seriously affecting our relationships?

One of the biggest problems with texts and emails is how easy it is to misread, or read into, the 'tone'. Many misunderstandings have been wrought by confusing meaning and execution, misunderstandings that could easily have been avoided if the conversation had been vocal.

And while phone calls seem to be less private, at least they don't hang around to torture you for all time. Just ask any of the celebs that have been burnt by hackers, and whose intimate lives have become blog fodder. At least when you hang up the phone, you know that the conversation is over.

According to the New York Times, telephones were first sold exclusively for business purposes and only later as a kind of practical device for the home, but took on an emotional aspect fairly quickly.


It's as though we're using our handsets to send telegrams, and the emotional aspect of telephoning, which is actually quite lovely, is going by the wayside.

I miss talking on the phone. I have four friends who I chat with, and it always lifts my spirits to catch up on their news, to hear their individual intonations, to hear their laughter.

Even emails with dear friends have been reduced to newsflashes, and there's very little richness to the exchanges, no matter the love and care that actually exists.

This richness can still be conveyed through the sounds of our voices, though, and it's worth trying to revive the practice of actually using our mobiles for the primary purpose for which they were made.

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