Why Don’t We Phone Like We Used To?

Given how few people phone nowadays, one would think that Alexander Graham Bell’s phone call to Watson went like this. “Watson, I have invented a telephone that is fantastic! For if I hold my speaker next to my telegraph machine, you can hear what I’m keying in to you via Morse code! Listen!”

And so Watson hears the sounds of “– .- – . -..- – .. -. –.”  Soon, everyone in America wants a telephone so he/she can hear a caller key them dots and dashes.

It seems that we have forgotten how good the voice of a friend can be, say, one with whom we’ve had a long history. Or how valuable a discussion can be with a friend who knows us better than we know ourselves. (And we don’t have to pay long-distance like yesteryear!) Phone calls serve a purpose that texting and emails do not. Can you really feel the love with an emoji?

People have largely hung up the phone because they’re hung up on texting and other modern variations of sending Morse code. Yet, in the business place, experts insist that face-to-face communication is best. When that isn’t possible, phone calls are the next best choice. People can gather context and meaning from vocal tone that you can’t otherwise. According to Launch Workplaces, sixty-seven percent of executives and managers say productivity would increase if superiors communicated face-to-face, or dare we say, mouth-to-ear rather than dot-dot-dash.

And this is not to say that emails and texts (in French it’s called a texto) have no place in our lives. They do. It’s to say that phone calls do not deserve to be squeezed out. It’s also to say that we mature adults who refuse to text and begrudge emailing are cool. It’s our increased productivity that keeps America running!

There may be a new development. Some people think that they have begun to receive more phone calls on the job and from friends than a few years ago. (Actually, some people were surprised because these were friends with whom they had never spoken by phone! Hello.) A 29-year-old video producer has discovered that “Phone calls are much more efficient for everyone involved.” A 20-something female says, “I’ve always liked calling people, but maybe there’s a renewed desire for authentic communication.”

There seems to be no statistical proof that the phone call is back – do a google search and you will find dozens of stories lamenting the phone call’s death – but in her book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age, Sherry Turkle argues that teens and young adults are ready to change how they communicate. She spent several years interviewing hundreds of them and discovered they are growing tired of text-based communication. I’d guess it is a matter of, “If mom and dad are texting or emailing their friends, I’m going to talk to mine! WHERE CAN I FIND A DIAL TONE?”

Footnote: It is not clear whether or not Sherry Turkle is related to Studs – their last names sound alike – but she does lead MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self. If you are interested in whether or not the two are related, give her a phone call. Did I mention that there is no long-distance charge?



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