Phone Thoughts in 2021

Not too long ago, I mean, like, in the last couple of weeks, a professional colleague emailed me to tell me some good news and to ask me about something related to our shared venture. I emailed back that he should call me because what I had to say was easier communicated through talking than text. Then three days later I emailed again asking why he hadn’t called. He called then and apologizing saying, basically, that he assumed the comment about calling was sarcastic.

This illustrates, I think, the state of making phone calls in 2021.

For the record, I was not being sarcastic – I did actually want to speak to this fellow. But I couldn’t entirely blame him for having that thought. At this point in turning of the world, voice communication, i.e., using one’s phone as a phone, is an increasingly rare thing. Speaking personally, more than 90% of my business communication is through email. Speaking on the phone is reserved for rare occasions that are on opposite sides of the communication spectrum: Either short congratulations on good news, short commiserations on not-great news, or long strategy calls that are essentially not-in-person business meetings. Everything else is email.

Personal contact is perhaps even more lopsided; there are friends I’m in almost-daily contact with through text, email and both public and private social media who I don’t think I’ve had a phone call with in years. Some of them I don’t think I’ve ever had a phone call with at all. I’m happy to talk to friends on the phone, I should note; my phone conversational skills have not so atrophied that I’m incapable of blathering away about nothing for twenty minutes or a half hour. But I’m also not sitting in my house wondering why no one calls anymore. I know why they don’t call — because they’ve already shared the news about what’s going in their life on social media, and I’ve probably already responded by hitting the “like” button at the very least. We’re already all caught up.

And this is fine. The phone had its nearly-century-long primacy as a communication medium because there was nothing better, faster; its primary competition was letter-writing and postcards. Now the primary competition is social media, which is generally better for saying things to a bunch of people all at once; text, generally better for saying something to a particular person; and email, which does both. Even the (ugh) conference call has been supplanted by the (ugh) Zoom call. The phone call is now specialty communication: For when, for whatever reason, saying something with your voice is actually the best way to do it.

Which as it turns out is rarely.

And which is why I don’t, on a daily basis, miss the phone call at all. I don’t miss the disruption of my workflow or personal time, or having it be the primary thing I focused on when it was an unwanted call and thus I didn’t want it to be, or not knowing who was calling or why. I don’t miss being annoyed with spam callers (my Pixel phone automatically screens out the majority of these now so I never see them at all), and I don’t miss the political or other robocallers. I don’t miss trying to navigate through voicemail to listen to messages. I love talking on the phone with people I like to talk to, and usually these days we do that by appointment, which is pretty great as well. I can and do take spontaneous calls, but the “always take that call” list is very short. If you have to wonder, you’re probably not on it.

(And I do vastly prefer phone calls to video calls. The selfie camera on my phone makes my face look like a small moon with a vast nose mountain on it, and it does the same with everyone else. This is not a great look for any of us. The video call is fine for when family or friends are having a get-together you can’t be at and you want to be able to wave at the whole group at once, or, again, some other very specialized use case. But otherwise, no, thank you. It’s possible this opinion is affected by a year of quarantine and forced Zoom conviviality; I’m the first to admit to Zoom burnout. But I think this would be the case for me in any year. If you must call, I prefer it be audio, please.)

Miscommunications about when to call aside, I do think the communication situation in 2021 is vastly preferable to what it was in, say, 1991 or even 2001. For me, Whatever and Twitter are for general public communication; my private Facebook account is for the wide spread of friends and family; email, text and private messaging are for specific people. For specific slices of folks, there’s Discord and Slack when I want that. And finally, when it’s needed, and only when it’s needed, there’s the phone.

It works! I like it! I think it’s better. You are free to disagree, obviously. Just don’t call me to do so.

— JS

48 Comments on “Phone Thoughts in 2021”

  1. I think the most telling piece is this: now when I call friends most of them answer by saying, “What’s wrong?”

  2. “(ugh) Zoom call”

    So, during lockdown, the team I was working on all went remote, obviously. I had just moved to Jacksonville from NJ after a divorce, had started dating one woman (who is awesome and is now my girlfriend), and was (and is) living in a one-bedroom apartment (and loves it).

    All of our meeting were voice calls. And I hated it. No faces. Other than my girlfriend, the only faces I saw were my own and my cat most days.

    Eventually, I left that team and went to work (remotely) for a new employer (nothing against the old employer- great place- but this was a better fit for me). And everyone does Zoom and Slack calls, with cameras and stuff. And it’s awesome. I get to see faces again! Yay!

    For those of us who have to do remote work with teams, Zoom is amazing. None of the other solutions are close to what Zoom brings, and I wish that development team all the best. They might have saved my sanity in the pandemic.

  3. I was born with neuro issues. Autism may or may not be one of those things, I’ve never been officially diagnosed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if/when it happens. I’ve always been really uncomfortable with phone calls–I can receive them just fine, but actually picking up the phone and calling someone myself, even if they’re a close friend, fills me with dread.

    The online media have been a godsend. I met my wife through an online dating service, and all of my friends are online–especially now that we’ve moved from Houston, TX, to Belfast, UK. Given the distance, and the time difference, it’s easier and cheaper to keep in contact with friends/family via email and social media. Sure, lots of cellphone providers let you call friends and family for free, assuming you’re both (for example) Verizon customers–but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t apply when my friends/family are on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Email means I can say what I need to say, at a time that’s convenient for me, and my friends/family can read and respond to it at a time that’s convenient for them.

    It is true that, when we first moved to Belfast and my wife was looking for work, she did have some telephone interviews–but the start of the process was “go to this website and fill out this form,” and after the initial interview it was, “go to this other website and fill out these other forms.”

    We had a landline when we lived in Houston, but we both now have European cellphones–no landline at all, unless you count the phone that lets us know when visitors are here, so we can buzz them into our apartment.

  4. One change that has happened in the tech/software development world is the preference of messaging over things like Slack/Zoom/Teams vs. an email.

    Over the past few years, people have begun to just ignore email. Partly, I think, as a way of control. I’ve sent emails to co-workers and have no gotten replies for over a day. The explanation is always a riff on “Oh, I was really busy.” Yes, and certainly I was not…while I was sitting there blocked waiting for the information that you held.

    Yeesh.

  5. Email replies from hotels, airlines, Worldcons etc with the details of what you booked are an invaluable resource. Not recently, obviously…

  6. This matches my experience, John. Sadly, I am slowly increasingly isolated and irrelevant in my social circle because I have a phone and a computer. The phone takes and makes phone calls (no texts) and the computer is excellent for actual email and the occasional necessary-for-work Zoom meeting (but since I don’t have a camera on my computer I don’t have to worry about the visual issues.

    A few years back I attempted social media but being a person with a brain disorder about a year or two into Twittering and Facebooking I noticed a marked deterioration in my mental and physical health and stopped that shit, going back to reading and commenting on a few blogs and news aggregation sites, and communicating by email and telephone.

    People still do communicate with me when they must. But mostly they use email and the telephone to berate me for not having a social media presence and/or not having text messaging.

    As far as I can tell, this is because no one wants to have direct communication, or effortful, meaningful communication, most of the time.

    “Direct” communication meaning a live, real-time connection, voice-to-voice on a telephone, and “effortful, meaningful communication” meaning sitting down and composing thoughts into full sentences and paragraphs, including context and maybe even a little background, etc., – like an old-fashioned “letter” (you kids won’t know what those are, of course.)

    The type of communication people want now is “Lemme dump this info on you now while it’s convenient for me in the shortest possible context. Then when it’s convenient for you (or when your device pings at you) you can respond in the quickest, shortest possible way which will be convenient for me when I get around to it (or when my device pings at me.)

    I don’t know if there are others who find this approach to communication increasingly alienating and painful… we may be on our way out with the dinosaurs.

    In the mean time, I cherish phone conversations with the few who also enjoy them, and enjoy a copious email correspondence with a small number of similar fossils.

    It suffices, but I miss my old friends, and even more, the potential new friends I could be making, who can no longer communicate by phone or e-mail.

    It’s lonely here.

    But fairly productive.

  7. Unfortunately, my line of work means people just loooooooove to use a phone :(

    I don’t want to talk on the phone because people complain about how awful my voice is.

  8. Interestingly there was a thread on Twitter about this recently, including comments from one woman who was incredulous that people actually “made appointments” to talk to their friends and family on the phone. She insisted that we were all a bunch of elitist snobs or pathetic snowflakes because we all talked about either valuing our time or having some level of phone or social anxiety.

    I HATE talking on the phone. I have to do it all day – either phone calls or conference calls – for work. It’s not that I can’t do it, but I don’t like it and when I’m not working the LAST thing I want to do is get on the phone and talk some more. I’m happy with email, text, messaging, or some form of social media. And honestly if I could just turn of the “phone” function of my cell phone and direct everyone to text or message me instead, I would.

  9. I still use a ‘dumb’ phone and texting anything beyond a few words is painfully slow. And yet people who know me – and who should know better – still f’ing text me. Just call, dammit. I usually answer. I’ve also decided that I will answer texts with calls, but if they don’t pick up I don’t leave messages. If it’s important they’ll call, dammit.

    (Yes, I am a set-in-my-ways cantankerous old fart. I earned it.)

  10. Ah, letter writing! Guess what? Some of us still do it! It’s one of the best ways to communicate in my view. I’ve always loved writing letters and when he who shall not be named put his peon in the Post Office, I basically got out my address book and started sending letters and cards to everyone I knew. (I don’t have a huge address book, I’ll admit that, it’s the select few, ha, ha, ha!) And quite a number of people wrote back saying what a joy it was to have a handwritten letter suddenly appear in their mailbox! I never was much for talking on the phone, but will do so if needed. I notice the kids text each other and agree to talk at a specific time. I find that less weird than you’d think, because the two eventual phone talkers have agreed on a time when they both are free to speak. For business, e-mail all the way. It’s like letter writing on the computer, of course. But I hate the sign off “Best”. Best what? How hard is it to type “Wishes” or “All the”? Anyway, a letter is still the best way to communicate the kinds of deep thoughts one has with the personal touch of hand to pen to paper. Until the present peon destroys the USPS completely, it’s still my communication of choice to my nearest and dearest.

  11. For business stuff I vastly prefer email because then I have an actual record of What I Said and What the Other Person said, and as my memory gets less capacious, this matters. And I found the same thing true when my daughters were younger: parenting by text meant I had a written record of, say, what time someone had promised to be home…

    Oddly, my younger daughter has to be contacted by text or phone call to read emails I send, because email is for dinosaurs. But she does love to talk, by phone or FaceTime.

  12. The demise of the phone call has been hastened by the fact that it is increasingly overrun with spam, scams and the like. I don’t even answer my business number any more unless I am expecting a call or the number is one in my contacts list. More than 60% of calls I get are garbage–for numbers I don’t recognize, that percentage is probably 95% or higher.

  13. Off Topic, but want to say how much I enjoyed the Interdependency series, now that I downloaded “The Last Emperox” and read the whole thing in the past few days. The evil doers are SO EVIL and the rest of the characters are so not evil, trying so hard to help their community.

    And so much great snark, which I really enjoyed.

    Thanks for the great books, Scalzi.

    On topic, I too have trouble making phone calls I need to make sometimes. Should be calling contractors about finishing or starting work, but that is hard, just too hard some days.

  14. Where I work, remote management is a ‘thing’; it just got pushed into overdrive by COVID. Sadly, Admin has fallen in love with webinars and Microsoft Teams meetings where the communication is largely one way from the top down, despite the opportunities for F2F. They also are terrible at the recordskeeping aspect; it takes an Act of Deity to even get the PowerPoint notes from a meeting where crucial working points are discussed, let alone an actual transcript for reference purposes. Notes is dreadful to search. One begins to wonder if this is deliberate, so no one can point to anything in the text and say “This is what you said to do; why are you complaining now?”

    I know that this isn’t a new style of leadership, but COVID was an opportunity to improve on it, and they blew it. I would much rather have an e-mail to refer back to than a nebulous Zoom meeting where key points aren’t recorded for future reference.

  15. I used to curse the phone company for all the spam/scam calls I was receiving–surely stopping them is well within the technical capabilities of the telecoms–even after I acquired a cell phone (cell only, no landline) that dumps all calls from numbers not in my contact list directly into voice mail, without ringing.

    But then I realized that without the spammers/scammers the phone company would lose a huge percentage of their voice business (in my case well over 90%) with a consequent impact on their bottom line.

    I wonder how people can make money selling auto warranties, keeping you out of jail because you missed jury duty if you send them Apple gift cards, bailing out your grandkid from a Mexican jail, and all the other ways they work to separate people who pick up the phone from their dollars. But then I read about someone who found the love of their life on-line, has never met but has sent them tens of thousands of dollars to help them out, and they’ll get together just as soon as their love’s latest crisis is resolved, once they send money for the airline ticket and the additional ten grand for the kids’ cancer treatment…

  16. timeliebe – Central NY – Dreaded Spouse-Creature to bestselling fantasy author Tamora Pierce (SONG OF THE LIONESS, THE CIRCLE OPENS, BEKA COOPER: A TORTALL LEGEND series), a co-author of TORTALL: A SPY'S GUIDE, Co-author with Tamora Pierce of Marvel's WHITE TIGER: A HERO'S OBSESSION for Marvel Comics. Contributing Editor for VIDEO Magazine during the 1990s, Columnist for C/Net 1999 - 2002.
    TimeLiebe

    What Beej said – recent phone calls I’ve gotten that aren’t spam, scams, or collection agencies for people I don’t even owe money to(!) are either from my pharmacy, my doctors, or my family with bad news.

    I got a call about a month ago, I think, to tell me my Mom was in the hospital with breathing problems, then the next one nearly a week later told me she was dying and could I come out (we couldn’t afford it even if I could’ve gotten a flight – we live on the other side of the country), and then one to tell me she’d come home and died the next day.

    So, yeah – phone calls are not good news any longer.

  17. Totally agree. I never liked talking on the phone all that much. (I used to sell books by mail and would get phone orders but was never great at small talk.) We got rid of our landline years ago, and now that my mother is gone I’d say a minimum of 95% of the calls I get are brief ones from my wife. (I do get occasional calls from my siblings.)

    And I like it! This is so much better for me.

  18. My, such a 21st century problem.

    My head is still back in the 20th, in that when I consider maybe writing to a company or my congressman I am always thinking of a standard letter. And when I say “run off copies” I still gesture like cranking a (gestetner) thing for rolling off copies.

    Heck, I’m still getting used to people meaning the verb photocopy when they say “copy,” as I grew up saving money by copying music note for note.

    Given that an email has a subject line I see it as being more akin to a business memorandum than to a business letter, social letter or telephone call. Hence I feel a dang blasted tendency to be more subject-focused in my social email than I would like to be.

    I remember having a business meeting in person, just me and the president, and coming up with a cool idea that we immediately used, and me saying this idea would not have happened if we were “meeting” by phone. Because the more business-like the time pressure, the less I am creative.

  19. I have a few people with whom I will never do business/plan things via voice, because they have a history of misrepresenting those conversations to other people out of some deep-seated need to create drama and then fix it.
    That was a hard-earned lesson.

    Like a few other commenters, I also find I hate making cold calls for work (I don’t do sales, this is usually for getting basic price/availability info about something I need to buy, to then pass on to the “real” purchasers in our procurement labyrinth).

  20. Nothing will ever replace talking to my mother or son on the phone when I can’t see them in person (most of the time, since they’re both over 200 miles away).

    And similarly to Ray, I work with remote teams (even in “normal” times) and it’s been wonderful getting to put faces to names. Also the audio is generally better on Zoom than conference calls and I can see some people’s lips which greatly helps my auditory processing. Not everyone shows their faces on Zoom, and that’s ok too, plus you can set it not to show you your own picture. There are things that are really better handled by group discussion than by email.

  21. I appreciate my cell phone, but the problem with them is that the need to be charged, which is difficult during an extended power failure. that’s why I will always have a landline.

  22. What I really don’t miss is voicemail. I have voicemail on my phone and it says to not to leave me a message and to instead send a text.

    Phone tag is another thing of the past. Waiting at home for an important call? Thanks goodness that’s gone.

    I kind of miss prank calls though. That was fun for a minute.

  23. Much of my (small, specialist, mail-order) business is done by phone (and email) as almost every customer needs advice and I can only take a credit card by phone. I have, finally, learned to turn the bloody thing off out of hours, having eventually worked out how to put people onto a “get through” list and block all the rest. People still try to call me at 8am, or 11 pm, or, once in a while, at 3am.
    There again, I had a most unhappy phone thing recently. I’ve been talking, at length, a couple of evenings a week with an old acquaintance. He seemed reasonably civilised, educated, literate and cultured, and the conversations were pleasant. So, we booked a week in a country cottage as we both badly needed a break, as soon as allowed. On arrival, he turned out to be boorish, loud, uppity, rude, ignorant, racist, misogynist, a fool, and a damned liar.. Holiday from hell. If I had taken an axe with me…
    Sigh…

  24. Much of my (small, specialist, mail-order) business is done by phone (and email) as almost every customer needs advice and I can only take a credit card by phone. I have, finally, learned to turn the bloody thing off out of hours, having eventually worked out how to put people onto a “get through” list and block all the rest. People still try to call me at 8am, or 11 pm, or, once in a while, at 3am.
    There again, I had a most unhappy phone thing recently. I’ve been talking, at length, a couple of evenings a week with an old acquaintance. He seemed reasonably civilised, educated, literate and cultured, and the conversations were pleasant. So, we booked a week in a country cottage as we both badly needed a break, as soon as allowed. On arrival, he turned out to be boorish, loud, uppity, rude, ignorant, racist, misogynist, a fool, and a damned liar.. Holiday from hell. If I had taken an axe with me… (I nearly did)
    Sigh…

  25. I call my parents weekly because they live on the other side of the continent and, even in These United States in the year 2021, there are people in rural areas living with dial-up internet service.

    This morning I dropped a postcard in the mail for my best friend’s kid, who’s working on the state trail crews for the summer – no cell signal in the backcountry, but they do come in weekly to do laundry and pick up postal mail.

    Said best friend will call and talk to me on their way to and from the field. Especially during fire season, it’s good to have one more person who’s got a general idea of where you’re at on the smaller state roads . . . .

  26. No worries about me calling, even if I had your number (which I don’t). I HATE talking on the phone. I feel like there are always swaths of dead air space because I have nothing to say. It’s so bad I put off making calls for doctr appointments and such as long as possible. Much prefer email.

  27. Around here the phone call is essential, and happens al the time. It’s still essential for planning and executing a great big event for a significantly numbered audience, that has very many people involved as talent, tech and admin. The closer to the date the more phone calls there are.

    Setting up for Zoom and staying set up for Zoom when so many are working in homes that aren’t optimum for a big, private, personal office just isn’t feasible, and texts can take too long, with all the back-and-forth brainstorming going on. In fact Zoom can be a real pain when somebody’s internet drops out due to weather, lousy providers, glitches, people constantly mumbling as they figure out yet again for the 1000th time how to find the box that will let them do what they want to do.

  28. P.S. I loathe texting. Loathe it.

    Email is great though. We do huge amounts of business and socializing too, that way.

    And last week, we started having our first f2f in person meeting, hooray!

  29. @eridani
    I think you will find that landlines (or what is referred to as POTS – Plain Old Telephone Service) is going away. Companies like AT&T aren’t removing any services, but they are no longer going to maintain the expensive copper wire systems that feed landlines and are instead moving to fiber optics and other digital services.

    There are plenty of options out there for charging a cell phone during an extended outage. You can get everything from a cheap solar charger to a hand crank charger (what I used after our most recent winter storm here in GA) to a battery backup. And of course, if you have a car, you can always go charge your device via the car.

  30. Also all the ‘instant chat’ apps, that are used by younger generations in preference to just about everything else.

    I.e. phone calls, done on the phone.

  31. I hate talking on the phone whether I am at work or at home. Using the phone at home is potentially life-threatening because I have a demented cat who goes completely bonkers whenever someone calls me; sometimes blood (my blood) is shed before the end of the call.

  32. Many years ago I maintained a fax line in addition to our main landline. That went the way of the dodo after I realized that for a solid year, I got no faxes other than spam.

    Now, if really necessary, free email-to-fax services work quite well. Most businesses have transitioned to email attachments.

    Then the landline went, we switched to Ooma VOIP for the house. Our cellphones are not smart, nor do they include texting. Our phones are strictly for our use, but a fair number of people still try to text. Once had an Instacart shopper cost me $5 in texts, at .10 cents apiece. Ooma luckily includes a fairly robust spam blocker, to the point that when I get new doctor, I must add them to my Contacts or they can’t get through. I’m right on the edge of turning on the “send all numbers not in Contacts to trash” setting.

    As to the preferred method of communication for various purposes, I try to prioritize by bandwidth gained, or the likelihood that the other person will be available.

    Highest bandwidth, of course, is IRL, where you get body language, facial expression, full context, and the assurance everyone in the room is wearing pants.

    I use this (or did, having retreated to Zoom for obvious reason) for critical business meetings where gathering needs specifications for software means LOTS of questions, answers and demonstrations. Or if there’s someone I really need to hug. Zoom is a close second, except for the pants. And the hugs.

    Plain old voice phonecall is one step down in bandwidth. But try to get someone to answer! Usually have to leave a voicemail and wait for a call back.

    The word a lot of people seem to be struggling to identify is “asynchronous,” meaning not at the same time. The above communication methods are all synchronous where both people are contributing their time & attention simultaneously. Though you can multitask pretty well on Zoom if you don’t forget to turn off the camera.

    Texting, messaging, and email are all asynchronous, though I know some people shoot texts back and forth so fast they might as well be on the phone.

    If a job or issue doesn’t take a lot of bandwidth, asynchronous communication is excellent. Many times though, customers have issues they cannot define well enough for emails, or they’re too complex. Often a simple phone call will get us both what we need, quickly. I try to determine what method gives me the necessary bandwidth while being least inconvenient for the recipient.

    Also, with phone calls and having bad or awkward info to convey (not death or breakups, you beasts!), you can hope the person isn’t there, and you can just leave a voicemail. But that’s another long post.

  33. Question for Athena.
    Do women prefer text or voice from their boyfriends?

    One can hear emotion in one’s voice, and the women’s voice should be music to a boy’s ear.

    What do women think, if the boyfriend says “Please do not talk to me, but text be instead.” If he roles were reversed, that would be a kick to the curb.

  34. I have fully embraced zoom for the one-on-one call. On the computer monitors with good internet it works better than a phone call for me. And I love the way I can screen-share. I HATED skype, but zoom doesn’t have those weird delays when it’s just two people (it’s still clunky with conference calls, but so are conference calls).

    Mostly I communicate with people via gchat or email. But when a conversation is helpful, zoom.

    For my family, though, we facetime. I’m not sure why.

  35. Not a fan of text/chat/IM/Discord, etc. Took me a while to figure out why I dislike that form of communication so much. It’s too low bandwidth for efficient synchronous communication, but people expect it to be and use it as a synchronous form of communication. I can’t be productive or function with constant alerts, notifications, and interruptions.

    If I send an email, I don’t expect an immediate reply. I send it, go on about my business, and check for a reply sometime later when I can.

    When someone sends me a text/chat, there’s an expectation that I’ll respond immediately. When I do respond, the “conversation” is painfully slow. I type a message, then await a response. I have to either sit there and twiddle my thumbs while the other party is typing, or I switch to a different task while awaiting their reply. The task can’t be something that requires actual concentration, because I’m going to be interrupted by the reply in short order. Lather, rinse, repeat. So I’m totally incapable of productive activity while carrying on a text based conversation because my attention is shattered by too many rapid context switches. A phone call is much better and much more efficient. Takes less time because higher bandwidth, and it has my full attention.

    I’ve been looking for over ten years, and I’ve yet to find a single use case – for myself – where a phone call or email wouldn’t serve better than a text/IM.

    I DO use text/chat/IM, but to me it’s just another form of email. I use it asynchronously. I have all alerts and notifications disabled. I check it periodically like I do email, when I can give it my attention, usually every couple of hours or so, but at least once per day.

    I know others have no problem using text/IM as their primary form of communication. More power to ’em, but my poor brain just doesn’t work that way.

  36. 90% or more of my useful work communication has been on email for a long time. I find Zoom, Teams, etc. to be really draining and mostly unnecessary. The one place where voice is really useful is the D&D game I’m in- we transitioned to Discord when the lockdown started and it’s worked well- can’t imagine the game without the voice and video elements.

    I’ve avoided most social media since the late, lamented LJ. And the amount of time I spend on voice calls (that don’t involve ordering out or escalated customer service) has dwindled to almost nothing. Weird… I remember having a couple of those long-distance relationships during college where we’d be on the phone for hours, sometimes just for the near-silent sound of each other breathing…

  37. Michael R. Johnston – Sacramento, CA – Father of an eighth grader, high school English teacher, writer. Forty-nine years old and feeling almost every bit of it on some days, and not a bit of it on others. Based in Sacramento, California, USA
    Michael R. Johnston

    I have much the same attitude. I’ve found that when we want to order in, I prefer any place I can order without calling.

    I used to spend literal hours on the phone with friends, now I “see” them on Facebook, Twitter, or Slack and occasionally in person. And I /hate/ video calls. Yes yes, we’re in the 21st century and we all have video phones. Big whoop. I had to teach through a screen for a little over a year; I’m OVER the video call.

  38. Our landline phone has been out for a week (repair guy on the way!) and we haven’t missed all the robocalls!

  39. Phone calls are fast but must be synchronous. Letters can be asynchronous, at the convenience of each, but slow. Email and text are both fast and asynchronous as needed. Zoom is just a phone call and anyone sane finds that annoying.

    As to what explains the prevalence of text over email, I’m baffled unless it is the marginal convenience of not having to dig up the email app and then find the @ key. For some reason , it is not all that common to find it on the main keyboard screen of a phone.

  40. Doing all communication by typing on one’s phone must mean that we’ve reverted. To the age of Bell letters.

    Thank you, thank you, I’ll be lurking here all week.

  41. I see folks have their pet hates.

    As for hating video calls (such as Michael, above) I am reminded of the best seller “Sex and the Single Girl,” back in the days of TV’s “Madmen.” The writer, a household name (Helen Gurly Brown) noted that ladies often preferred the telephone because they could attend to just their voice.

    Arthur C. Clarke noted the same thing, about a decade later, in a nonfiction book. Turns out the sf idea of visiphones already existed: The phones were gathering dust in a California warehouse because even millionaires, who could easily afford them to talk to each other, preferred to only attend to their voice.

  42. I am an Elder Millennial and do a lot of communication via text-based media, but I still enjoy a good chat with some via voice. A traditional telephone call is going to be FAR down the list, mainly because the audio quality is so much worse than any digital solution; LTE voice calls are good, as is using Discord/Signal/Teams/WhatsApp/FB Messenger, but if it’s with someone on a landline phone I’m going to be slightly disappointed since I am now spoiled by the better audio quality from higher bandwidth (or better compression) methods.

  43. Email is best for business, planning and inquiries. It’s asynchronous, and there’s a record. I haven’t deleted an email since the early 1980s.

    Text is just email with a crappy keyboard, except everyone has a text box, and not everyone has a mailbox. It’s also how apps communicate even if they call their texts notifications.

    Voice mail is audio texting. The bad sound quality corresponds to the bad text quality. It’s also harder to reply to.

    Voice calls are great for catching up with friends and family. They’re also good when doing something complicated. It’s easy to check, double check and clarify without waiting for an answer. We have lots of voice calls from friends.

    Letters are good for special occasions. We don’t write them often, but paper is more special. It lends weight. They’re also good for legal reasons.

    Zoom and Facetime are good for teaching someone how to cook. We’ve used them for special events a few times, but they don’t seem to add much to a phone call, and the sound quality in conference calls is even worse than on a cell phone. They need a repeat the last five seconds with circa 1998 MP3 sound quality feature.

    Social media is useless. It’s not like a blog where you can just see what someone has posted. It’s maybe 5% of that and 95% crap from people you’ve never heard of and advertisements. It’s not clear if someone is a friend if they can’t spend a few minutes to call, write an email or send a letter. My business friends use them like press releases.

    Marshall McLuhan was right.

  44. I actually use the phone (or at least VOIP with headset) fairly frequently for work. I’m a software developer that is part of a team, and often working on specifications, troubleshooting, and testing is much better done over voice (with screen sharing). But it’s worth noting that I do that from my desktop, not my cell. I purposefully don’t have a camera installed on the desktop though. I likely do between 2 and 10 conversations a day this way.

    Other than that I do like doing video calls with family (usually from a tablet), but that’s partly because I’m in Sweden and they’re in the states and they rarely get to see me and their grandkids/nephews otherwise.

  45. With the spam calls, what annoys me is the Federal Order of Police/Fighterfighters or whatever they call themselves this week, trying to guilt you into giving them money or are you against our troops/police/firefighters?

    97% of donations go to funding the phonically, not the service they claim to represent. It’s a complete con and I wish that it was more visible just how much money was tied up into funding these spam calls.

    The phone companies have been working on something called Verified Caller ID which in theory should cut back on spam but you won’t be surprised to learn that some vendors (Verizon cough) want you to pay for it instead of it being free. If they keep this up, the only thing people will do is get rid of their number. Which is becoming more and more tempting.

  46. We don’t have smart phones; we have a land line. I once missed an important (during surgery) call from the vet because he hung up without leaving a message on the assumption that I would call him right back. I called him right back about four hours later, wondering why we hadn’t had a report on the surgery. And had to tell him that we don’t even start to move toward the phone till the caller identifies themselves as someone we want to talk to. The phone (which it seems we must keep just to have a phone number to fill in for online orders) is just for scammers and solicitations. Email me if you actually want to “talk” to me.

  47. If I’m texting with someone and it’s starting to turn into an actual conversation, I’ll stop and call them. I can’t stand lengthy texting. I hate using my thumbs on a tiny screen for more than a few words at a time.

    I have two friends with whom I have a standing phone call every week, and those conversations typically run 1.5–2 hours. I have several other friends whom I call irregularly (but at least once a month) and again, the convo goes upwards of 2 hours.

    But I’m at the older end of Gen X, and so are the people I call. We all grew up talking on phones with coily cords, and parents yelling at us because we paid for the call per-minute.

    I still have a landline (needed for the house alarm system), and I give that number to business and websites that require a phone number, but who I don’t want to hear from or I suspect will sell the number to spammers. Anyone I actually care about has my cell number.

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