I’m not a “phone person”. I never have been, and I don’t think I ever will be for a number of reasons.
When I communicate via phone, it’s as though the person on the other end is speaking to an entirely different person than if I were “speaking” to them through the relaxed, comfortable atmosphere of an instant message or an email.
When I’m speaking to somebody on the phone, that person becomes the recipient of my stream of thoughts at that specific moment in time. If I’m not feeling particularly articulate, or if I’ve been caught off-guard specifically by something my caller has said or by the conversation in general, I’m left with no time to collect my thoughts and formulate an intelligent response unless I want to litter the conversation with frequent periods of silence or stammering “ums” and “uhs”. I’ll even find myself at times stuttering or stopping mid-sentence to rephrase what I’m trying to say; there’s no time to mentally rehearse how what I’m saying should be worded in a way that best conveys my intended sentiment.
Choice of Words
This relates to my next reason for shunning the phone as much as possible: If my immediate response to something another person has said could be easily misinterpreted or misconstrued, or if I otherwise “misspeak”, I cannot take back what I’ve said once I’ve said it. With a less time-sensitive method of communication, if I catch something that doesn’t make sense to me once I’ve had time to re-read it within the context of the entire conversation, I can simply delete that text and start over.
With spoken word, there are no rough drafts, there is no proof-reading, and, most importantly, there is no Ctrl-Z.
Then there’s the matter of attention or multi-tasking. When I’m speaking to someone on the phone, that conversation demands my full attention. Any sort of distraction or interruption could easily lead to portions of the conversation getting “tuned out”, missed, or misinterpreted. I could pretend like I heard everything that was said, and either potentially miss some sort of crucial detail or come across like I just don’t pay attention. I could also ask the person with whom I’m speaking to repeat what was said, which can be a hassle and is definitely an inconvenience to them, especially if it’s done repeatedly. Lastly, I could ask to reschedule the call, however that’s even more of an inconvenience and, as far as I understand, would usually be considered rude.
With email or IM, I can worry less about distractions and obstacles. I can listen to music. I can hold multiple conversations at the same time. I don’t have to worry about bad cellular reception or being in a noisy environment. It doesn’t matter if someone’s accent is a barrier to understanding. It even doesn’t matter if I’ve got laryngitis. I can communicate via email or IM under any of these conditions.
Betrayal of the Mind (or Ears)
Let’s not forget the accountability factor. With a phone conversation, things people say are subject to faulty and selective memory and can be misheard and, therefore, misunderstood. With text-based communications, everything that everybody has said is spelled out and recorded, and can be referenced at any point in the future should any questions arise about the content of the discussion.
Unless a phone conversation is recorded, which comes with its own set of issues, anything that anybody says can be twisted with the flow of time to match a person’s perceptions, preconceived notions, or ulterior motives. When a person communicates with text, there’s a reasonable expectation that the content of that communication will be retained for future reference. And with cryptography solutions like PGP/GPG and OTR, the identity of the message’s sender and the integrity of the message itself can be verified.
Lastly, there’s the topic of availability and freedom. With email and IM, I create my own schedule and decide my own availability. If someone sends me an email, it will still be there in a little while when I have the time and after I’ve decided to read it. If I feel like waiting to answer an email after I’ve prepared myself to do so, then that is my choice to make. A phone call, however, is an immediate demand on my time, regardless of my ability to get to the phone or my willingness to speak to someone at that time. While email and IM are still largely tools of convenience for me, the phone can often be a tool for others to rudely and indiscriminately intrude into my life.
If you call me on the phone and I don’t answer, it’s not necessarily because I don’t want to speak to you, it’s just that I value my time and my freedom more than you do, and I might be doing other things when you call.
With all the benefits of electronic communications over speaking on the phone, I’m left wondering why people still talk on the phone as much as they do. I have a feeling that I’m not the only person in the world who feels this way.
A friendly call is one thing, where you just want to hear the voice of a friend or a family member and want the reassurance that they’re there for you on the other end of that call. However, for professional matters, as far as I’m concerned, the phone is dead.