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Monday, August 9, 2010

You Have Reached...

Herman of Alaska - Missionary to the Aleut (1837)

A recent article in the Washington Post confirmed what I had long suspected:  people don't like to talk on the phone anymore.

When I was a kid, my parents sent me to Catholic school in the next county. I had no real problem with that except that it put a cramp on my social activities because getting a ride did not mean around the corner: it was a good 25 minutes from home.  Also, it was outside our local calling area so I had to be judicious with how much time I spent chatting.

Like most families at that time, we did not have a telephone in every room, nor did we kids have the luxury of our own number.  Conversations were restricted to the olive-green Western Electric wall phone in the kitchen, and -- as we grew to be teenagers -- we learned that the  handset cord could be stretched into either the laundry room or the top of the basement stairs so we could discuss our plans for world domination or eternal wedded bliss to the crush of the moment in relative privacy.

The summers before and after my senior year were spent living with my grandparents and doing construction work with my grandfather.  Telephone time with the gang on the Delaware was even more restricted then, as the Great Depression survivor would be sure to let me know just how much I had cost him each month.

Flash forward to the days of unlimited calling plans and cell phones that go with you everywhere, and when I look at my personal bill I see pretty much what the article described:  hundreds of text messages but few phone calls, and the ones that do appear are generally a few minutes.

Part of this is because of my job. I have to host conference calls with customers, vendors and co-workers on a regular basis.  Sometimes the calls become contentious as we try to juggle priorities and hash out a plan that everyone can live with.  I am guilty of returning voice mails with email because a.) it gives me a record of what was said and b.) it keeps the conversation from wandering onto other topics I was not ready to discuss.

Also, since my surgery I have been working at home most of the time, usually alone.  Thus at the end of the day, I really don't want to sit on the phone anymore.  I'd rather be either out somewhere or at least having face-time with another humanoid, not plopped in a chair with the phone to my ear.

I feel bad for those who do take it personally that their phone doesn't jingle with the frequency it used to.  Mine doesn't either, by the way; I sense my friends, many of whom are younger than I am, are experiencing the same ambivalence about phone time that the article describes.  The very omnipresence of the device in your pocket renders it both a convenience and an intruder, since the person "at the other end" does not know where or when you'll be in an appropriate setting to take a call.

However, I do take great pleasure in the ability to interact with so many people on Facebook.  I have been able to reconnect with friends from all stages of my life as well as create networks of folks with similar interests I might not have ever encountered.  If anything I feel more connected to those around me than in those Western Electric days, not less.

That said, on Friday I did call an old friend, whose family and career responsibilities have -- like mine -- limited her ability to socialize.  We indulged in a 123-minute conversation, and it was quite nice.  We both agreed not to let so much time go by before we did so again.

What about you, readers?  Has your phone activity changed?  Do you feel differently about getting calls and returning them than you did in the bygone wirebound, pre-email days?

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