Thursday, June 20, 2013

Uh....I Think I Quit Answering My Phone

Courtney Jaye--"Say Oh Say" (mp3)

I know when it started.  When the house phone became a pointless, irrelevant noisemaker in our lives, a thing we used to screen the calls that we were never going to answer, which means that we weren't really screening anything because every time the phone rang, it was a foregone conclusion.  Nope, sorry, not talking to you, though by that time it was credit card people, telemarketers, and political robots only.

Because, you, I was talking to you on my cell phone, wasn't I?

Except, now I'm not.  Uh, no offense, but I think I've quit answering my phone.  No, not think, I'm pretty sure I have.  In some cases, I'm practically certain.  In fact, I can look at my phone logs and see the documentation of exactly that.

Not you, though, right?  I'm pretty sure I'm taking your calls.  Even if I'm not taking anyone else's.  

Well, even that isn't true.  I am taking some calls all the time.  My dad because I'm afraid something might be wrong, something may have happened to him.  My daughters because I'm afraid something might be wrong, some crisis where I'm needed.  My wife because, well, my wife needs me to answer the phone and I need her to.  If you need more explanation than that, you aren't married.

My boss, yes, I'm just paranoid enough that I take that call every time.  

And my friends?  Of course, my friends!  I'll take your call through rain or sleet or even snow, especially in a short term situation like when we're in New Orleans and you don't know where I am and I don't know where you are and...well, at least know with absolute certainty, that I'll take your call always.  Maybe not his or hers.

But sometimes, maybe not.  When I'm detoxing on the way home from work, when I'm in the middle of cooking supper, when I'm sitting at the kitchen table chillaxing, when I'm watching a movie that I could pause but don't feel like pausing, most of all, my head is in some completely different place than the potential issues

There's a societal shift here; I don't think it's just me.  The telephone went from the shared experience of a party line where you could listen in on your neighbor's conversations if you wanted while you waited for that all-important call (which your neighbors could listen to) to the mysterious excitement of who could possibly be on the other end of that ringing machine to being the single connection to the outside world for an entire family and, therefore, an essential tool for bored teenagers everywhere.  I remember monopolizing the family phone for hours, not caring one lick for the busy signal some frustrated caller might be getting, saying almost nothing of significance to a friend or girl or girlfriend simply because it was night and we were apart and teenagers want to be together.  The older you got, though, the more that the telephone became about business--solicitors, offers, creditors, winning free cemetery plots in drawing you didn't even know you had entered.

And then we all got our own phones and I never spoke to your wife or husband or child or whoever answered the phone again and, in the broader sense, that little machine in my pocket told me that I never had to speak to someone accidentally or at an unplanned time again.  Don't recognize the number--don't answer it!  It might be a robot call from Oregon trying to find out if you are a real phone number or not.  Recognize the call--don't answer it!  It might take your evening in a different direction than you want it to go.

Look, text me any time and I'll hit you right back!  Send me an email and you'll get a quick response because I check that shit like 15 times a day.  Heck, ask my blogging partner, Billy, I'll even chat with you on Gmail while I'm at work!

But all of those methods state their business, make their purpose clear immediately.  In the personal worlds we're trying to control for ourselves in 2013, a phone call doesn't do that.  And the person who is still living under the old paradigm of "Hey, I think I'll give so-and-so a call and see what's up" doesn't understand the irritation or trepidation that can cause.  Don't believe me or think I'm just a selfish outlier?  Watch the people near you and watch their reactions when the phone in their pocket or purse starts to buzz or jingle and they look at the name and make a snap judgement not to answer.

How different we've become from the first days of the cell phone when if the damn thing rang, we'd stop whatever we were doing and answer it!

Is it possible, at all, that this might be a good thing, this way that we are controlling our relationships or that relationships are being dictated by technology?  I think the answer might be largely generational and completely unclear.  People my age don't seem to be replacing real human contact with texts so much as they are turning their phones into efficient machines for relaying quick information. And while I may not take your call immediately, I will call you back. Younger generations, well...we can't even generalize.  I rarely hear my daughters talk to their friends on the phone--all interaction is conducted through text, Instagram, SnapChat, and the one I don't know the name of where it seems like a conversation, but it really may be a spoken text from you followed by a spoken text that comes back at a later time from him and on and on. It seems to work for them; they manage a lot of relationships. And, as Billy knows better than I do, even younger generations are using FaceTime or some other face-to-face conversation over Ipads or the like, an idea that's been around since the Jetsons, but which has been left to pre-teens and early teens to figure out in terms of ethics and parameters and acceptable behaviors.

So if I don't take your call right way, no, it's not personal, and, yes, it's totally personal because it's you, but, maybe like you, all I'm trying to do is to manage all of the information coming my way in a way that makes sense to me.  I will hit you back, though.


G. B. Miller said...

I'm a major luddite when it comes to cell phones. Whereas my son and daughter has the latest cell phone, mine is still circa 2006. Going on 7 years, all I ever use mine for is to talk.

And yes, I agree how the landline is almost irrelevant (sort of need it for the computer, and that's about it). With ours, all we have to do is look at the t.v. to see if its worth answering.

troutking said...

It's funny that technology has lowered the bar for communication---I will send someone a quick text or email about something much less important than I would call them about. At the same time, all those little communications have raised the bar for a long, leisurely phone conversation, an experience I always enjoyed with friends and family members I didn't see very often. Good, bad? I don't know. But it is different.

Kathleen said...

That Oregon robot calls me all the time!

Kathleen said...

I definitely have phone anxiety. Scheduling a "phone date" with someone I haven't spoken to in a while gives me the creeps. I know there will be so much to catch up on and possibly some recriminations for not staying in touch better. I'd never pick up on a random mid-afternoon call since I have no idea what I'm getting into!! That's why I like sending people quick texts, snap chats, etc because they make me feel more connected and in touch with whomever's call I DO answer.

cinderkeys said...

Way late again, but ...

I've noticed the opposite phenomenon. The phone is ringing and whoever I'm with must answer it, or at least they must look at the display to determine whether they must answer it. Whether they are at home or eating out, cell phones exist now, and therefore they must be available to everybody, always.

Drives me nuts.