Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I Don't Like Talking on the Phone

When I tell people I don't have a cell-phone nor a phone-ish handheld of any description nor ever had one nor even felt any inclination to get one they often act as though I have wandered onto the scene from another planet. And thereupon farted. Also, the fact that I screen calls at home is an occasional topic of rueful and even disgruntled conversation among people I know, as is my practice of dispensing whenever possible with business matters via e-mail rather than over the phone.

You know what? I don't like talking on the phone. Is that really so flabbergasting? I find talking on the phone at once uncomfortably constraining and also profoundly alienating. For me, talking to somebody over the phone is like trying to talk to your kidnapper through a hood. Not only that, but I don't like to waste time on the phone, aimless conversation on a phone is impossible for me to attend to for any length of time, and most conversations are so unmoored they feel aimless to me even when they probably shouldn't. Certainly I don't feel like I am "in touch" with a person on the phone, time on the phone doesn't count as "keeping up" with a real person in any authentic way, it's dead time, empty time, awful time.

And, you know what else? I don't want to always be reachable by phone. I emphatically am not living the sort of life in which I need to be making arrangements on the fly about an impending meal or finding a breathlessly entertaining way of filling my evening with who knows whom. I'm not an overbooked caterer. I'm not the PA of a globe-trotting public figure. I'm not busy. I don't buzz. I definitely don't want to talk about work after work on my way home on the train. On the train I want to read a book or space out at the window. When it comes to practical matters, I can communicate the nitty-gritty more readily and concisely in an e-mail anyway, no muss no fuss.

I frankly think it is an impertinence to believe that I should be at anybody's beck and call just because they happen to be able use a phone. Running a hot bath may indeed matter to me more than your scheduling conflict later in the week. Can you imagine somebody barging into your home interrupting whatever you are doing just to bark about whatever inane thing happened to pop into their head at the moment? Why is answering a phone supposed to instantly rise to the top of my priorities whatever I am doing or whatever frame of mind I happen to be in just because the damn thing is ringing?

Since I don't know the President of the United States I am sorry to be the one to inform you that almost nothing that is happening in your life is so goddamned urgent that you can't leave a message to tell me about it. Or better yet, leave me an e-mail. We can arrange a meeting if it comes to that. We can talk about it over coffee. We can chill out over at my house in front of the tee vee or out on the porch steps.

But as far as the phone goes, Sheryl Crow had the right idea: "Hello, it's me. I'm not at home. If you'd like to reach me, leave me alone."


jimf said...

> Also, the fact that I screen calls at home is an occasional
> topic of rueful and even disgruntled conversation among people
> I know. . .

I've stumbled across a new strategy. I've let my home answering
machine **fill up** and. . . I don't empty it. It's like
having the phone off the hook, except the phone company doesn't
bug you about it. ;->

As far as my work phone is concerned -- after a lifetime spent
thinking that a phone is something that's supposed to **ring**
when you get a call (whether or not you happen to be inclined
to answer it), my work telephone has just been replaced by
a gizmo that plugs into the network jack (or more precisely,
into a network switch that has three other computers
also plugged into it, that's in turn plugged into the
network jack in the wall). But here's the kicker --
my phone isn't just on by default. In the morning,
I'm supposed to **log in** to the bloody thing -- type a user name and
password on its keyboard. The thing automatically logs you
out after 8 hours, so this procedure is now expected to be
part of our morning ritual, along with booting the PC
and logging into the company LAN -- just to obtain the "privilege"
of having the phone ring when there's an incoming call.
Otherwise, your incoming calls go straight
to voice mail. Guess what -- I haven't logged into
my new phone-thing since it was installed. ;->

> I frankly think it is an impertinence to believe that I
> should be at anybody's beck and call just because they
> happen to be able use a phone.

The thing that amazes me is that so many people **are**
not just ready, but seemingly **eager** to jump to attention
when a phone rings.

I used to have a cubicle adjacent to (and eat lunch with)
a guy whose cell phone rang seemingly every 15 minutes.
And he used to stop working and **get up and go out into
the elevator lobby** when this happened! Or if he was
having a (live) conversation with somebody (even
at lunch ;-> ), he'd put his **live** interlocutor (me) on hold
while he slogged through an entire conversation on the
phone. Some of these calls were from his stockbroker,
but the majority were from a brother, a sister, and a wife,
none of whom could seem to get through a whole day without
calling their big brother (or husband) **several
times**. And he didn't seem to mind! He
never shut the damned thing off. I swear, if I was
married to somebody who had to call me half-a-dozen
times a day, I'd smash the phone. Possibly over the
head of my spouse.

Lastier said...

I love this. Put perfectly into words why I find phonecalls so discomfiting. Even worse, when you have a 'scheduled' call coming that you just KNOW will fritter away hours of your time..i'd do anything to avoid those :x