Sunday, March 20, 2011

Is the telephone a dying medium of communication?

Via Alan, I learned of an article in the New York Times addressing the diminished importance of telephone calls. Here's an excerpt.

NOBODY calls me anymore - and that’s just fine. With the exception of immediate family members, who mostly phone to discuss medical symptoms and arrange child care, and the Roundabout Theater fund-raising team, which takes a diabolical delight in phoning me every few weeks at precisely the moment I am tucking in my children, people just don’t call.

It’s at the point where when the phone does ring - and it’s not my mom, dad, husband or baby sitter - my first thought is: "What’s happened? What’s wrong?" My second thought is: "Isn’t it weird to just call like that? Out of the blue? With no e-mailed warning?"

I don’t think it’s just me. Sure, teenagers gave up the phone call eons ago. But I’m a long way away from my teenage years, back when the key rite of passage was getting a phone in your bedroom or (cue Molly Ringwald gasp) a line of your own.

In the last five years, full-fledged adults have seemingly given up the telephone - land line, mobile, voice mail and all. According to Nielsen Media, even on cellphones, voice spending has been trending downward, with text spending expected to surpass it within three years.

"I literally never use the phone," Jonathan Adler, the interior designer, told me. (Alas, by phone, but it had to be.) "Sometimes I call my mother on the way to work because she’ll be happy to chitty chat. But I just can’t think of anyone else who’d want to talk to me." Then again, he doesn’t want to be called, either. "I’ve learned not to press ‘ignore’ on my cellphone because then people know that you’re there."

"I remember when I was growing up, the rule was, 'Don't call anyone after 10 p.m.'," Mr. Adler said. "Now the rule is, 'Don't call anyone. Ever.'."

Phone calls are rude. Intrusive. Awkward. "Thank you for noticing something that millions of people have failed to notice since the invention of the telephone until just now," Judith Martin, a k a Miss Manners, said by way of opening our phone conversation. "I’ve been hammering away at this for decades. The telephone has a very rude propensity to interrupt people."

Though the beast has been somewhat tamed by voice mail and caller ID, the phone caller still insists, Ms. Martin explained, "that we should drop whatever we’re doing and listen to me."

Even at work, where people once managed to look busy by wearing a headset or constantly parrying calls back and forth via a harried assistant, the offices are silent. The reasons are multifold. Nobody has assistants anymore to handle telecommunications. And in today’s nearly door-free workplaces, unless everyone is on the phone, calls are disruptive and, in a tight warren of cubicles, distressingly public.

There's more at the link.

I must admit, I find the author's attitude strange. I still use the telephone in preference to e-mail, etc. when I want to contact friends. In fact, I've refused to use instant messaging ever since it first appeared. It seems to me to be an extremely irritating interruption to one's flow of work, or thought, or whatever, to have to constantly stop what one's doing in order to answer an IM from someone else. At least, with a telephone, I can take a quick look at the caller ID. If it's someone of importance to me, I can answer it; or I can let the caller leave a voicemail message for future reference.

What say you, readers? Are you using the phone less? Let's hear from you in Comments.



Anonymous said...

I had a well-thought comment plugged in here but apparently the length of and effort put into a comment is directly proportional to the chance of Blogger eating it.

Short version: Text communication has a useful place (for facts and figures) but won't replace voice (for the human connection).

Also, called ID? Beautiful thing.


Nebris said...

My cell phone is my 'up close and personal' mode of communication. The few calls I make or receive tend to last two or four hours on average.

Erik said...

I work from home, and as such I'm dependent on a working phone to be able to be in contact with everyone else.

But I've noticed the last few years that the phone calls have been trending downwards, and email is taking over. Or within the company, IM is taking over.
It's easier to send an IM note and get an answer back at the other persons convenience, and you can also use IM as a check to see if the person is present. So you dont have to try and call someone that isn't available, which saves everyone time.

Old NFO said...

Since we don't have IM, phones serve as an I need it NOW resource... I still prefer to call people and yes, caller ID IS a lifesaver :-)

WROlsen said...

Thanks to voicemail I let almost all of my calls roll over. If it's important to the caller they will leave a message, it it's not I didn't need to talk with them.

Bryn, North Wales, UK said...

Phone calls still very much in use here, but mainly for calling banks, suppliers & utilities. Incoming calls (especially in the evening) are filtered by setting the answer phone to 1 ring and then listening in case it's someone we need/want to talk to.
Cold sales callers get no response other than being cut off in mid-spiel. I do appreciate that they are trying to make a living, but they cannot replace the time they leech away if I answer the phone & talk to them.
Other than my parents, Skype has replaced the telephone for social calls.

Anonymous said...

You don't have to answer the damned thing. That's what caller ID is for. I find the phone very useful for getting information, calling in prescriptions or other stuff.

Anonymous said...

I make fewer calls. But 1) my work situation is such that I don't really have anyone to call, 2) my friends have crazy work schedules and 3) I hate cold-calling people for business. I prefer to introduce myself via a letter or e-mail, then phone when it works best for the other person (I'm asking for information, so I try to fit the giver's schedule.) I prefer reading a letter or hearing a voice to getting an e-mail. But if e-mail is it, I'll take it over nothing.

Emily S. said...

I'd say I actually make more calls now than I used to. But that'd be because I've suffered from a near-paralyzing phobia of using the telephone, which I've been slowly working to overcome....

Guffaw in AZ said...

Another vote for Caller ID! Most of my calls are to my cell, which also has it. I still have a land-line (for the general public).
And, I do email. But, I HATE TEXTING! I thought the whole idea of the telephone was so one didn't have to write/type?

Anonymous said...

Guffaw, consider text messaging's origin in Japan; they wanted to keep the noise of a lot of conversations in close quarters down, so it makes sense in that regard.


Matt Wennerlund said...

Phone for getting or transmitting complex information/questions, email for simpler ones. IM only for a few IT brethren for very simple things. My lousy typing skills are worse than my stuttering, so I use the phone for most complex conversations. Another vote for Caller ID as well,

LabRat said...

I'm with Alan. The phone is reserved strictly for either planned extended conversation with friends and family or I-need-it-NOW. I heavily prefer IM and e-mail.

It's a personal quirk, but I have less felt urgency from an IM than the telephone. Lots of people leave IM services on while not actually at their desk or while otherwise occupied, and I feel it a more polite gentle tap on the shoulder than the summons of the ringing phone.

Of course, this is strict projection on my part; I find it EXTREMELY difficult to ignore a ringing phone even if the caller ID tells me it's someone I can blow off, and am rarely ever bothered by an IM unless the user goes to some effort to nag me.

I also prefer text to phone for complex/dense information, but again this just reflects the way I'm wired- I learn and retain much better writing and reading than speaking or listening.

perlhaqr said...

I definitely use the phone less than I used to. Heck, if the wife goes out of town, I might go days without actually speaking at all.

I remember when I was a teenager and got *Molly Ringwald gasp* a line of my own... which I promptly plugged into my modem. :)

Morris said...

I still prefer the phone for 'heart to heart' convos, but text or email tends to be the way to go for sending general info. Marketers get no leeway from me at all - as soon as I know its a marketer its "Goodbye" *click*..

amanda77kr said...

My employer's lifeline is the phone, as it's a recruiting firm. But even still, we have and use IM and are moving towards video chat for candidate interviews. Many can be better reached by email and prefer that. But by far and away our business is conducted primarily via phone.

In personal life, the only phone calls I get are for the drug dealer who has my same number with a different area code. (I jest but some of the phone calls are really suspicious.) My family & friends either IM or email for all communication.