Dialing in while dialing up: The lost art of the phone call

January 11, 2023

Jayde Robertson

It is a contentious topic in our connected (but more than ever), disconnected world. Many years ago, phone calls were a treasured pastime. While cell phones now keep us connected in so many ways, more ways than we ever thought possible, the big plastic objects that hung on the side of the wall or at the side of your mother’s bed (in my experience) connected us to childlike joy every time it rang. In a family with three children, with two rambunctious brothers, getting to the phone first was like winning gold at the Olympic sprints.

Fast-forward to 2023. We have, at our fingertips, such a vastly sophisticated device that we can screen our phone calls before we say hello. Most of us (if not all) are guilty of dismissing at least one incoming call. What was once the single magic of hearing someone's voice on the other line, we now have something I like to call "talking fatigue".

Besides not remotely wanting to talk on the phone, some of us have now even developed phone call anxiety. Something like picking up the phone to discuss work or make an inquiry sends some people into a spiral of debilitating anxiety, known to manifest physically, resulting in an increased heart rate, sweaty palms, or even an onslaught of nausea and dizziness.

But why? And should we be meandering back to the long-lost art of the joyous phone call?

The answer isn't simple. Technology is amazing! Applications and platforms we use daily grants us a certain freedom. Basically, we get to decide how we want to communicate. While this liberty gives those who avoid coming within an inch of a call a sigh of relief, we forget the intricacy and intimacy making a phone call bestows on us. So while we don’t think every situation calls for it (pun intended), there is a special connection lost when we can’t seem to find the strength to make a phone call.

We deep dive into the new disconnect and what we should do about it.

Shun the People Who Call

Yes, I am one of the most likely people to be guilty of dismissing a call. The matter has escalated so badly that if I end up answering the phone, the person who is familiar with me nearly finds themselves at a loss for words before they start conversing.

But, as with all things, we need to note that there are all types in this world. And we need to understand why some don’t want to take calls.

You see, I like to be in control. I thrive on multi-tasking, like most people nowadays. Sending a text or chatting on an app allows us multi-tasking control freaks to do just that. We have the liberty to keep typing away at our laptops, sipping our coffee, and maybe even grabbing a snack. With text, there is no etiquette to follow while doing it, unlike face-to-face or call-based communication. People like myself yearn for the ability to do what we want on our own terms, and we somehow feel more productive doing it.

There’s Time to Think

Sending a message or email is one of the most forgiving forms of communication. It is a no-pressure way to send that funny joke (correctly, unlike the time at dinner you couldn’t quite remember the punchline), take time to evaluate proper responses, and you don’t feel the need to fill the empty spaces with small talk. Any takers for another comment on how the weather is?

We know that conjuring up proper and correct responses boosts our self-esteem and forms a winning recipe for crafting relationships. While we expect this to be more comforting for introverts, today's audience for this careful crafting of words is broader. Interpersonal skills have waned, and it seems more of us have taken to not saying anything until we are confident it gets our message across just the right way.

Giving Us the Whole Picture

Picture this: It’s 1974, and your mom just purchased a new pair of shoes. She phones her best friend and goes through every intricate detail of said shoes to describe them. The fit, the colour, the texture, and even the price. Because when you are limited to words, all you can do is talk.

Now, we can share photos, documents, and much more at the click of a button. The ability to share anything gives us... Well, a lot less to talk about, I guess. While being able to share this information from across the world has opened up opportunities and connections like never before, it makes you wonder if we have made magical things seem – a lot less exciting.

We Are Overloaded

More and more people are suffering from burnout. We get bombarded by bad news, stress, constant connection to social media, work, and the day-to-day things ALL DAY, EVERY SINGLE DAY. When the stress starts to mount, it seems like we just don't have the energy to deal with others anymore. The new normal of working remotely and digitally retains psychological space between you and the next person, making talking to the other person less intimate and less demanding.

Sending a text or chatting via social media is less of a commitment. It seems simple and less emotionally draining. Engaging in a one-on-one conversation that a phone call demands can inversely make us feel more disconnected and more distant.

A Case for the Telephone Call

It seems that the more sophisticated technology gets, the more we stop taking the time to connect and speak to each other. Not only do we avoid calls in our personal lives, but phone calls in the workplace also get the boot with video calls on platforms like Zoom taking centre-stage for virtual work meetings.

At first glance, it seems we are only losing one atom of communication technology, but we have to realise the fragments make a whole, with the phone call being the original source of connection. Phone calls are important, especially in business. They drive meaningful conversations, and most of the time, it is a much more efficient way to get things done. The dreaded phone call gives us a minute to step away from the screens that keep us hidden and put some effort into hearing what the person on the other end wants to say. No distractions.

What We Think

“Reach out and touch someone far away” was Bell Telephone’s slogan. Not too long ago, my mother and I were talking (face-to-face) when she told me how lonely she felt. I felt guilty at the time, telling her that my schedule was busy and I saw her as much as possible. What she said surprised me. “You could skip all those messages you send and call me for one minute a day because hearing your voice is much more special.”

While people can communicate in more ways than ever, we need to relook at why we have swayed away from the original method of communication and try to rectify our thought patterns. While we communicate with clients via online platforms often, when last did we do a personalised one-on-one talk with them about their needs? How about some feedback? Phone calls are intentional, and we need to be fully present. That is perhaps the problem: being present. While we are more connected than ever, we are so disconnected that we fail to live and be present in the moment. Let me ask you this: To what end?

If you, like me, have been avoiding the audible connection of a thoughtful call in business or in your personal life, try to change your perspective and pick up the phone. It may be difficult or uncomfortable at first, but even a dreader of calls like me must admit there is that “something” about a phone call.

Much like the telephone call, personable marketing seems to be a lost art. As marketers, we are always on the go, looking for the next big thing, the big idea, optimising this, planning that - so much so that we forget where our authentic source of creativity and production lies. Connection.

Most of us spend an unprecedented amount of time on our phones, whether we care to admit it or not. Sending a meme to a friend, then another friend, scrolling on that site, promising yourself that you will eventually get to the 208th recipe you’ve saved. Why not invest some of that - let’s be honest - wasted time by adding value with the personal connection a phone call brings?

Go on, make a call to someone who may be lonely.

Even if you are only calling to say “hello.”

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