Do phone calls fill you with delight or dread? We debate the merits and drawbacks of actually talking to someone on the phone.
Phone calls were a hallmark of our teenage years; many of us spent hours talking to friends in the evenings and at weekends (even in the days of dial-up internet, when you couldn’t be on the phone and on the web at the same time). As children, speaking on the phone even made it into our leisure time with the board game Dream Phone, which involved ringing up boys to try and figure out which one liked you.
But now, with WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, Tik-Tok and more, we have myriad ways to communicate that don’t involve putting a phone to our ear and hearing someone talking to us in real time.
That’s not to say that the phone call is dead. In fact, new research by Ofcom has revealed that plenty of us use our mobile phones to speak to our loved ones, with Liverpool named the “chattiest city”, where the average phone call lasts for almost seven minutes.
But Ofcom also found that a quarter of people make fewer than five mobile calls a month, while 6% of us don’t make any calls at all. Of those who do pick up the phone when someone rings, almost two thirds end the call in less than 90 seconds.
Research from earlier this year, also by Ofcom, found that younger people find making phone calls daunting, preferring to use messaging services.
So are you a talker or a texter? Here, two members of the Stylist team discuss which side of the divide they fall on, and why.
The texter: Lucy, SEO executive
I hate making AND receiving phone calls, and it’s for four main reasons.
Firstly, it’s a drain on time, something I already feel I have too little of. Time spent talking on the phone is time away from the hundred other things I need to be doing. Secondly, a phone call can often feel like a task, another item on the to-do list, and an extension of work (particularly when it’s been scheduled in). Thirdly, phone calls are rarer than they used to be, and so I can’t help but feel that when they do come they’re about big or bad news, the prospect of which fills me with anxiety. Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, the concept of having a catch-up overwhelms me.
The phrase “can’t wait for a proper catch-up” literally fills me with existential dread, thanks to the connotation that whatever needs to be said is epic in nature, and can only occur either in real life or on the phone. It can’t be achieved over a text that takes seconds to compose, it can’t contain an emoji, it’s not just a quick transactional “still up for tonight?” or “I’m running late” or even “what did you think of *insert name of latest Netflix show here*?” Those texts dispense with the small talk that is so often a feature of phone calls.
It’s not that I mind small talk; I actually relish in it and it’s a skill I have mastered after years of account management experience. But my main worry is that I don’t like talking about myself. I’m a master deflector, which is super easy to do on WhatsApp, or even face-to-face where I can excuse myself to go to the bar or the loo. But on the phone, there is no sadly no escape from the dreaded “what’s going on with you?” or “how is work?” conversation.
Both the surprise phone call and the scheduled phone call fill me with dread. The phrase “I’ll give you a ring at 7” translates, for me, to me needing to block out an hour of my evening, meaning I can’t relax or complete the other elements of my routine until it’s over. It’s not unlike the way I approach a dreaded presentation or meeting at work.
This hatred of phone calls has crept up on me over the years, which seems strange in contrast to my eagerness to be in a constant state of communication with others in my teenage years. I vividly remember spending a full day at school with a group of friends, parting ways physically for a speedy 10-minute walk home, and then settling in for a long evening speaking to the same friends on MSN. This would be paused only for a two-hour catch up on the phone (pre-mobile) with the same people I’d been in touch with all day.
The thought of this literally exhausts me now. I’ve definitely become more introverted as I’ve gotten older, partially due to tiredness (or exhaustion when I’m being dramatic) after work. A phone call when I’ve just gotten in the door, when all I want to do is have a bath and make dinner, unnerves me.
I live in a different city, away from my friends and family, which means that any ‘catch up’ is often long and intense. When I know it’s overdue, I can get quite apprehensive: will it still be the same when I speak to them again? Will I have nothing to say? Will they find me boring? Will I find the catch-up boring? Of course, when I do eventually connect with a friend or family member on the phone, it’s a rewarding conversation, and I feel more connected to home.
But I still can’t deny that I feel relieved afterwards, safe in the knowledge that I don’t have to have a phone conversation again for a while.
The talker: Hollie, digital writer
“Get off that bloody phone, unless you want to pay the bill!” That booming instruction, shouted by my mum, echoed around the house most evenings when I was a teenager. I would literally spend hours speaking to my friends, even though I had already spent the whole day at school with them, talking about… well, nothing in particular.
It’s a habit that I’m still guilty of today. I call my oldest friend almost every day (or vice versa). I don’t even ring to tell her anything – it’s just become a habit. If she’s busy, I have a mental list of names of people who might be up for a natter.
If there’s an actual purpose to call someone – even better. I love singing Happy Birthday down the line, listening to the screeching response to some personal good news and getting excited about the travel plans that we’re going to turn into actions. And, if I’ve had a particularly hard day or have something on my mind, I’ll always try and talk it out with my mum on the phone.
But I also know the many people who never answer because they are in the strictly text-only camp, and I completely respect their decision (read: I know they’ll be looking at their screens in horror if my name flashes up).
Does this make me needy? Well, maybe. But, as I live in a different city to many of my family and friends, what’s wrong with wanting a bit of home comforts and feeling connected to them?
Also, I totally admit that I do often call someone just to pass the time. If I have 10 minutes to wait for a bus, am walking home on my own or need to tackle of bowl of dirty dishes – I’ll flick through my mental Rolodex of names and pick out the person who’s going to be my companion.
Sure, I’m also a master WhatsApper and texter. But after a day of looking at my screen for work and furiously bashing at my keyboard, I sometimes can’t bare the sight of my phone screen.
I guess the only thing that’s changed since my school days is the fact that I’m footing the bill. Ouch.