Robin Marantz Henig


The Death of the Telephone Call

When the check-in phone call disappears, so does our sense of social connection

Posted Sep 24, 2016

Robin Marantz Henig
Source: Robin Marantz Henig

I found myself nodding along in agreement to this Slate article by Timothy Noah, whom I know slightly, mourning the loss of the spontaneous friendly phone call. He says it died in 2007.

And with that loss comes a different one: the loss of feeling connected to the world at large. 

"My kids are grown and the house is quiet," Tim writes. "A whole day will now pass when I don’t hear the sound of my own voice. It would be nice now and then to hear the telephone ring."

Yes, exactly! It is indeed nice now and then to hear the telephone ring. Maybe that's why so many of us Baby Boomers choose the old-fashioned telephone sound for our iPhone ringtones. (My younger daughter calls it "fetishizing" anything that reminds me of the good old days; she's equally disdainful of the Typewriter Keyboard app I use to make my laptop sound like a 1950s typewriter.) That brrrr-ring sound reminds us of an earlier time, when phones were phones and kitchen tables were kitchen tables and people came over unannounced or called you on the telephone just to chat.

Like Tim, I can now go a whole day without hearing the sound of my own voice -- other than some words with my not-chatty husband, and the obligatory 9:28 am phone call to my 92-year-old mother, who apparently thinks I'm dead if I haven't phoned by 9:31. I have a couple of long-distance friends I talk to on the phone, but when I say "a couple of" I mean that literally -- I have two phone friends. And even with those two, the only time we speak is when we've arranged a time to beforehand via emails.

I much prefer face-to-face interactions anyway, preferably over coffee or drinks, and I've gotten used to the drill of making these happen by prior arrangement (and almost always at my instigation, not the other person's). But there's a loss here. It's been more than a month since I've heard the sound of my older daughter's voice; she doesn't like the phone at all, and these days she doesn't even respond to my emails or texts in more than monosyllables. And among old and new friends alike, I lose track of what's going on in their lives because there just doesn't seem to be the time, or the inclination, to pick up the phone.

All in all, it probably would behoove me to try to revive the habit of the occasional check-in call. I've actually spoken this week to both of my phone friends (one has a new book coming out and wanted to talk about it, the other is at her daughter's house awaiting the birth of her first grandchild and we had lots to discuss). It made me feel a little more like a normal social human again.

So, Tim: call me?

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