The other day I had an actual telephone call on my cell phone. Not an email, not a text, not a robocall from a telemarketer or scammer, not a social media interaction — an actual telephone call, where I spoke to real live person and we had a back-and-forth conversation in real time. It seemed almost like a red-letter event.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the personal telephone call is dying a long, slow, agonizing death. (Business calls are another matter, obviously.) The process began with the decision of many people, Kish and me included, to get rid of our home land line phone because it had become only the source of annoying telemarketing and survey calls during dinner, and we figured we didn’t need it anyway because we had cell phones. Then, with the advent of texting and email and social media, those became the preferred methods of communication. Friends who used to touch base by telephone now do so by texting, often in group texts, or by responding to a Facebook post about a new job or new member of the family or new dog or new recipe. It’s quicker and easier and viewed as less intrusive than placing an actual telephone call. Others argue that these other forms of communication are more efficient than phone calls, because you can send pictures and attach documents and data.
It’s kind of curious that the number of phone calls are falling while the statistics show that the use of cell phones overall is increasing. In short, people just aren’t using cell phones anymore for what used to be their principal purpose — i.e., making telephone calls — but instead are glued to their phones to check the news, reactions to social media posts, email traffic, and play games.
Will there be a day when the phone call as a communications tool actually dies? That would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago, but it seems increasingly plausible now. I hope it doesn’t happen, because I still think phone calls are superior for certain forms of communication — because in a telephone call you can hear the other party’s voice, which through its tone, and pauses, and other non-verbal clues can tell you something about how the other party is doing and how they are reacting to what you’re saying. Phone calls are a lot more personal than texts or emails, and I hope there is always a role for them.