Having been a fan of phone conversations since I was old enough to use one, I was both surprised and saddened when my pedicurist confided that she’d recently chided her husband for calling his friends. “People don’t like talking on the phone,” she told him.
Could it be — It’s not enough that we’ve lost the art of letter writing, now we’re going to do away with phone calls?
I actually remember my first phone call. I’d spent the better part of an afternoon with my cousin, 10 years my senior, learning phone etiquette and memorizing her phone number so I could call when I got home. As I did. Multiple times.
I get it, these days everyone likes to text. Me, not so much. I’m not opposed to texting, but, short of a few words in a last-minute, necessary communique, I avoid it. And yes, when I do text, it’s with one thumb.
In my not-so-humble opinion, a bunch of abbreviated, misspelled words in a little blue bubble do not a conversation make. I want to hear a voice. I want to hear laughter or even tears. A smiley face, a tearful emoji just doesn’t do it.
I am old enough to remember the standard big black boxy phones with the stiff rotary dial. My grandmother still had a party line — which could make for some real mischief or a lot of gossip depending on your age. I remember when the Trimline models came out, not only in white and black, but in red, pink and blue, and then with clocks and alarms or modeled after cartoon characters. Even the annual delivery of the new telephone book (courtesy Ma Bell) with its new full-color art was cause for a smile, and how carefully we filled in the lined page inside the cover with our frequently dialed numbers. As if we’d really forget. My school friends and I spent hours on the phone, tethered by the cord, which we stretched to buy us as much privacy as possible. When we did homework, I’ve no idea. When I moved to Alaska, I lived for Sunday nights when the rates dropped and I could reach out and touch someone clear across the country. Even so, my phone was often disconnected until I could save enough to pay the bill. It wasn’t that long ago that a call between Newport and Lincoln City was long distance. And then suddenly, phone calls were cheap. When my mom was alive, we talked nearly every day. I called to let her know I was leaving town, or returning home or that I’d just found a great bargain or that I was cooking one of her recipes, or that I needed one of her recipes. We even watched the Miss America pageant together, judging the contestants with our legal pads and pens, chiding the judges for obviously stupid choices. I can tell you almost verbatim the last call we had when her voice was breathy, words slurred by an illness doctors couldn’t name. “Would you order me some of the soaps and lotions I like,’ she said. “Even the nurses don’t like the ones they have here.” Two days later, she was gone.
I understand, too, that voicemail is not really a thing these days. Half the people I know don’t even bother to set theirs up. I learned that when I told my niece her voicemail was messed up and she not only didn’t fix it, she never even acknowledged the message. But I’m trying to get with the program.
I text when I discern it is the communication of choice. And I don’t leave voicemail when I expect it might be just one more annoyance in someone’s hectic life — likely even to go unheard. That was my thinking a few weeks ago when I called a tech-savvy, very busy friend. I figured she’d see she’d missed my call and ring back. Days later, when she didn’t, I tried again, explaining why I no longer left messages.
“Oh,” she said. “I figure if someone can’t bother to leave me a message, they must not want to talk to me all that much.”
I can’t win.
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.