Everybody’s talking. They’re saying that nobody’s talking.
In the past week, there’s been some news and commentary about shifts in the ways people communicate. Many are giving up their land line phones in favor of cell phones and some aren’t using their cell phones at all–for talking, anyway.
In “The Death of the Phone Call,” published in Wired magazine, essayist Clive Thompson puts the bottom line in simple terms. Today, he says, we are in “constant, lightweight contact,” following a dramatic decline in the number of calls made from telephones—especially cell phones. Essentially, we call less but talk more, but we’re “talking” via other media—text messaging, instant messaging, social media and, to a lesser extent, e-mail.
Facebook is a prime example of this constant, lightweight contact. It allows us to know what and how our friends are doing–their successes, worries, vacation plans, and cute things their kids said. We like knowing about these things, but we might not have 30 minutes to spend on the phone hearing about it.
The topic popped up a few other places this week and made me think. If I suspect my son hasn’t read an important e-mail, I usually text him that there is a message that requires his attention. If that doesn’t work, I shoot an instant message across the bow. If that doesn’t work, he gets the dreaded phone call.
It seems, by all accounts, no one wants the call.
An article in The Washington Post yesterday dug deeper into why this is so.
People interviewed for the piece cited a few reasons they don’t reach out and touch someone. Whether or not these are really why the kids don’t call, I don’t know. But, as the caller and the callee, I get it.
The immediacy of the phone call strips the callee of control. By dialing the phone, the caller is saying, I want a block of your time right now–when it is convenient for me. In contrast, texts and e-mails can be sent at the sender’s convenience and read at the recipient’s.
Those interviewed also said they viewed calling as impolite and intrusive, “more of an interruption than the blip of an arriving text.” Another observed that answering the phone requires a certain amount of psychological energy.
To a large extent, I agree. What disturbs me, though, is a trend that appears to go along with the new communications order. The Post article also noted that people avoiding the phone are often guilty of two sins–not returning calls and ignoring invitations.
Those of us who retreat from a ringing phone are by no means excused of our obligations to behave politely.
I don’t care what generation we occupy, how busy our schedules are, what time zones we live in or how happy we are to receive a particular call, the rules remain clear:
If someone leaves a message, we return the call.
If someone calls inviting us to something, we R.S.V.P., even if it is by text message.
Postscript: As it happens, my son called last night, after I was asleep, to share some good news, which he received while reading his e-mail. I welcome that call, day or night.