back to top

In Defense Of Talking On The Phone (And Other Confrontations)

Why it's worth using your phone for the thing it was made to do.

Posted on

I don't mind talking on the phone, and I'm not even that friendly. Everyone who is my age, plus or minus 10 years, loves to talk about how much they hate their phones. Or, well, everyone who is around my age loves to talk about hating to use their phones for the first thing their phones were made to do: talking on them.

Here is some proof in the form of links: In the past few years, we young-ish internet people have not been able to stop confessing just how much we hate talking on the phone. Or having to listen to voicemail. (Some of my colleagues have taken part, too.)

Everyone has reasons. Usually they are 1) shyness, 2) being "introverted," a label broadly and eagerly claimed, 3) the perceived waste of time involved, and, relatedly, 4) the superior efficiency of text messaging.

Reasons that also apply — maybe more than any of those willingly given — but are infrequently stated are: 5) laziness, which may be insurmountable, and 6) a fear of confrontation, which isn't.

There is a growing subset of vocabulary built to accommodate our communication evasions, many of them phone-based: It's the cutesification of misanthropy. There are "slow fade" and "ghosting," zingy slang that makes these things sound more like legitimate techniques than what they actually are, which is indifference expressed through avoidance. To consider oneself "friend-zoned" is not just an expression of misogynist entitlement, but often a passive refusal to be frank about one's feelings. "I can't even" and an all-capped "NOPE" are concise and funny GIF-and-link accompaniers, but they've also become shorthand for "I can't or don't want to express my discomfort with this situation or person more thoroughly."

Which is fine, sometimes. But it's rarely as difficult to say a little more, to be a little more honest, to have the talk and get it over with as even the least afraid among us fear. And if there's one thing I've learned from being scared of almost everything, not doing those things I'm scared of has never once made them less scary.

I am from the frigid upper Midwest, so it's my birthright to fear confrontation, if I want it. Let's say I'm mad at a certain friend right now. We'll give her the completely made-up name of "Schmiara." If I were going to tell a second friend — Bilvia — that I'm pissed at Schmiara but that I don't really feel like bringing it up with her, I could say, "I don't like confrontations — I'm Minnesotan." And Bilvia probably would not challenge me on that.

Regional stereotypes are a cozy crutch, but really you can use almost anything. You can try it next time anyone's talking about a potential discussion of moderate weight. "I don't like confrontations — I'm a Cancer." "I don't like confrontations — I'm the youngest/middle/oldest child." "I don't like confrontations — I just don't do drama." These are statements that will be accepted, and probably affirmed.

Nobody responds to "I don't like confrontation" with "I can't believe it." Everyone says, "Oh my god, me too, except I am even worse." One hundred percent of the 80–90% of human beings who avowedly dislike confrontations are convinced they are singularly, particularly disinterested in having confrontations. It's like building a segment of one's identity upon one's disinterest in getting sick. "Oh, personally I just haaaate getting colds." Well, me too, pal. But it happens.

The three worst phone calls I've ever had, in reverse chronological but increasing terribleness order, are: 1) the time a friend called to tell me he had feelings for me, and I had to tell him that I didn't share them; 2) the time I called a close-but-distancing friend hoping to salvage our relationship, and instead had to agree to functionally end it; and 3) the time I called my dad (after seeing several missed calls from him) and had to hear that my mom had suffered a traumatic brain injury, and was in a coma in the hospital.

I get it. Bad news is shared over the phone. For a year or two after the accident, I didn't see a call (or worse, a voicemail) from a parent or sibling without a palpitating heart and a hot face. But then my mom got and stayed better, and it went away. Now I only panic when she calls me after 9:30 p.m.

Those are the calls I try to think about when I've made plans to call or be called by someone (family, or a friend back home) and don't feel like keeping them. Everyone is going to die (haha, cool pep talk), and before that, everything will change. Someday some of the people I want to talk to will want to talk to me less, or not really at all. And vice versa, probably. Between now and then I would like to rack up hours of hearing their voices.

I can't list the three best phone calls I've ever had, because — and this is probably part of the problem — I don't remember them as well. Partly that is because there have been so many more, and it would be hard to choose. And partly that is because very few of them delivered any news of great significance. It was just nice to hear each other laugh.

Talking on the phone to people you care about is better than texting for four major reasons: 1) the ability to hear how much, and in what way, the other person is laughing; 2) the increased likelihood that it will occur to you to say something you hadn't planned on saying; 3) loaded silences, which usually mean progress of some kind; and 4) you can interrupt each other, which is sometimes necessary.

Texting is a good (and sometimes great) supplement to any given pair of humans' repertoire of interaction. Let us not bend to our self-convenient ideas about efficiency and pretend it is a wholesale replacement for even the occasional 15 minutes of talking, and pausing, and wondering what to say, and how to say it.

As for complaints about having to call the hair salon, or other venues of impersonal but mandatory life maintenance: Just get over yourself and do it! It will take five seconds! Your hair looks ridiculous!

Every. Tasty. Video. EVER. The new Tasty app is here!

Dismiss