It suddenly occurs to me that it’s been months since anybody called our landline. Except for my mother, of course. Day after day, when I check the phone after coming back home, the display is always the same. 0 Calls. 0 Messages. Come to think of it, hardly anybody ever phones at all. I do get the occasional call on my mobile but even then, they have become an increasingly rare event in my life. So much so that when the landline or the mobile ring, I jump, wary, assuming it’s either a wrong number or someone demanding that I do something. I no longer consider the possibility of hearing “Hi, Katia. How are you? I just wanted to hear your voice and catch up”.
I often call a dear friend who lives in London – so we don’t get to meet very often – and a precious friend who resides at the opposite end of the country, and I haven’t seen for over ten years. But I call them. Although when they pick up the phone, they sound pleased to hear my voice (either that or it’s wishful thinking on my part), the fact that I am always the one to initiate telephone contact makes me wonder if they simply put up with my quirk because they’re fond of me, but that among the rest of Western humanity, it’s a custom that has gone the way of letter writing and non-digital cameras.
One London friend sometimes calls me on my mobile, and there’s my American aunt who sometimes rings me on the landline. Other than that, it’s text messages and e-mails. Maybe it’s the kind of friends and acquaintances I keep. I can’t remember the last time anybody called and actually spoke to me when inviting us over for lunch, dinner or to suggest coffee in town. It’s either a text message or an e-mail. No tone of voice suggesting the person’s mood or state of health, no opportunity for a brief moment of warmth with words exchanged a viva voce. Just emoticons. I, too, used to include emoticons in my messages, but I do so less and less now. I actually dislike emoticons. Intensely. Centuries of languages, poetry, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Sturm und Drang, millennia of words in all shapes, colours, sounds and subtle nuances and I get a lazy, bland 😀🤣👍👏🏻or 😘. A fellow blogger I’ve become friendly with, recently removed the Like option from his blog. As I understand it, his point is that if we enjoyed what he’s written, then he would like us to express it in our own words. And not resort to a lazy “Like”. I must admit, I often find the lengthy process of leaving a fully-worded comment a little trying but then, once I have made the effort, I feel like saying, “Thank you, my friend, for forcing me to use my imagination and my brain.”
I don’t particularly like social calls on my mobile. The reception quality is often capricious, there is the background noise to contend with if I am in the street, and my ear gets hot after a while. Moreover, I am never able to concentrate fully when on my mobile. At home, on the landline, on the other hand, I can sit down and give him or her my undivided attention.
I get frustrated with the ping-pong of social text messaging or WhatsApp-ing. I wish I could just continue the exchange in good old-fashioned human speech.
Text messages are very convenient for brief messages, or if you don’t know if it’s a suitable moment to call someone. But then what’s wrong with phoning and saying, “Is it a good time to talk now or shall I ring you back?” Text messages have their place. But sometimes I would like to hear the person’s voice, assess their tone, detect their mood or their humour – without a standard computerised emoji sign posting it. Also, I like to hear a friend say, at the end of a telephone conversation, “OK, big hug” or “Love you” or “Mwah” instead of the obligatory “x” at the end of a text message or e-mail.
I prefer face to face contact to talking over the phone. But, when meeting is not possible, a telephone call provides a personal touch a text message or e-mail simply haven’t. And, for all its convenient brevity, I find it much quicker to call someone and get an answer straight away, than using my large, clumsy finger pads on the screen of my smartphone – and waiting for the other person to respond.
After I have cooked a meal and entertained guests, I would far rather receive a thank you call the next day, than a text message.
Yes, I too, am guilty of overusing texts and e-mails. I guess because people don’t use the phone to make a voice call, I am often reluctant to ring them for fear of disturbing them.
As they say in Russian, when you live with wolves, you start howling like a wolf.
Well, I don’t want to howl anymore. I want to talk to people. I want to hear their voices, in all their nuances.