'Text to Ya Later!': In Defense of the Phone Call

classic vintage rotary dial telephone
classic vintage rotary dial telephone

Remember the days when you'd fall in love with someone and talk on the phone late into the night? Staring up at glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, you believed those effortless hours of conversation confirmed you two were meant to be.

When the time came to hang up so that each of you could squeeze in a cool four hours of sleep, you'd play that totally not annoying "Who hangs up first?" game.

"No, you hang up first."
"No, you."
"OK, both at the same time."
"1-2-3! Wait, you didn't hang up?"
"Oh my God. Neither did youuuu!"

I played that game in my teens, but I don't anymore. It's not because I'm too old (even though I kind of am), it's because people simply don't talk on the phone anymore.

For instance, I called and left a voicemail with a friend the other day, and she texted me back: "I'm good. How are you?"

She never called back. We just exchanged a few sentences via text. I don't mind texting sometimes, but eventually, to keep a relationship connected and close, I feel an actual talking conversation is in order. With my closest friends, I try to converse on the phone about once a week.

My students, who are on average around nineteen, never really talk on the phone. In fact, they are currently working on an assignment where they need to contact and interview a person in their chosen career field, and most of them are paralyzed.

Granted, I get that it's nerve-racking to put yourself out there. However, I think the fact that many of them don't have experience with picking up the phone and making actual phone calls makes the process and assignment even scarier.

While writing this, I FaceTimed my thirteen-year-old sister to get her take. Erika said she thinks kids her age don't talk on the phone because they're lazy.

"It's just easier to text, Sissy."

She did say she's experienced texting turning ugly when tone and inflection got lost in translation. I think we've all received a text in a very different way than it was meant. Without hearing the vibe of the sentence, it's hard not to make our own interpretations.

Communicating via text also has us so buried in our phones that we rarely talk to the person next to us on the train, at the coffee shop, or waiting for food at a restaurant counter. Nobody talks because they're too busy sliding their fingers down phone screens to check texts and Facebook.

I've tried lately not to scroll in public places. Instead of filling that awkward four minutes in the coffee line with phone play, I've begun striking up conversations with other humans. Some people respond, but a lot seem annoyed that words are coming out of my mouth and heading in their direction.

I did have one awesome conversation with this backpacker lady on the BART train the other day. Come to find out she was a neuroscientist in town from London to speak at a special conference. Her story fascinated me. I'm glad I chose to engage rather than scroll through Facebook to read about someone's kid crapping their pants at school or somebody else's rant on Obama, Ebola, or Jesus.

About ten years ago, my friend Morgan complained to me that a guy she was interested in would only text and never call.

"It's so stupid, Michelle. We never actually talk. We should say, 'Text to ya later,' to each other because it's not like we're ever gonna talk on the phone anyway."

If only we'd known how bad it would get.

Most of us don't have home phones anymore, and we probably won't start talking more and texting less. But I don't care. I'm going to keep picking up the phone to call people because I want more than a couple of words on a screen. The closest relationships in my life thrive because we talk, FaceTime, and actually do things together.

I'm also going to keep challenging myself to emerge from the phone cocoon and talk to folks in public. I'm not sure, but I heard a rumor that's how people used to meet back in the Stone Age.