I hate the telephone with an unreasoning yet unstoppable passion. It’s something my father and I share, so I probably learned it from him. The sound of a phone ringing, even if it is a cutesy cell phone ringtone, is like fingernails on chalkboard to my ears.
I cannot quite recall when my distaste for this staple of modern life started, but I remember having this reaction as far back as middle school. If I have to reach somebody, I will try anyway I can to do so without calling them, resorting to the phone only if I really want to communicate with them immediately. Email, IM, an arranged get-together, all those come far before a voice-to-voice call.
Part of the problem with talking on the phone is that I find the conversation awkward in a way I cannot easily explain. On the one hand, there is a direct connection with the person I am communicating with, so there is an immediate need for appropriate interaction and role-specific etiquette, however the physical separation leaves only the tone of their voice as interpreted by the imagination to determine exactly what the appropriate response/etiquette should be at any stage of the conversation. This is very frustrating for me.
When talking to someone in a face-to-face situation I rely heavily on visual cues to inform my interpretation of my conversation partner’s mood, which influences how I understand the meaning of what they are saying and which response is the most appropriate. I am sure most of us do this on some level, but I feel very dependent on it at times. A person’s voluntary body language such as arm position, posture and facial expressions are very important to my ability to converse as are involuntary reactions such as pupil dilation.
I don’t want to give the impression that if I am sitting with something I am analyzing their behavior with an internal checklist, like most people I don’t always process these things consciously. However, without them I can be clueless as to how to proceed. Too often I find myself merely responding people to people on the phone instead of really engaging in the conversation, with the possible exception of when I am on the phone for a work-specific purpose that sets the tone of the conversation.
This lack of visual cues makes it difficult for me to tell a story because I have no way of knowing when I am talking too much, when I should end a particular story or when what I am saying is actually irritating the other person. This is frustrating because I also have no idea when I have successfully made my point, because I cannot see the person’s face indicate understanding or disagreement. These two issues make it very difficult and frustrating for me, and as a result I probably communicate even more awkwardly as a result.
Email and other forms of correspondence do not have the immediacy of phone communication, and while an inferior way to communicate, lacking all cues whatsoever of the recipient’s mood, it does not have the immediacy of the phone for either party. As a result, emails can actually be composed allowing me to carefully organize my thoughts at my own pace. IM conversations are an immediate form of conversation, however the rules for etiquette are fast and loose. One can develop many parallel lines of thought in a single conversation and once again it is acceptable to take a little time considering my message. Neither is a substitute for the essential face-to-face conversation, but I find the more removed alternative these options ofter far more comfortable than the awkward middle ground of the telephone call.
I do talk to old friends and my family on the phone, people that I don’t need to rely on cues to understand, and occasionally I will talk to them at length. After all, this isn’t a phobia.
I am sure I sound like a total basket case, but what can I say? I hate the telephone.
At least I never go over on my cell phone minutes.