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September 2, 2010

An open letter to New York City

September 2, 2010

Our sad, strange relationship with the telephone

September 2, 2010
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The other day I grabbed my phone to call one of my very best friends. It was, I don’t know, maybe 7pm? There was a chance she was home, but she’s been pulling insane hours at the office, so probably not.

I grabbed the phone, pulled up her cell number, and then stopped.

…maybe I should just text her that I need to talk to her and she can call me? Because if I leave a message she’s probably not going to check it because nobody checks messages anymore, so that would be a waste. I could text her the whole message, but it would probably be longer than just one message and if she sees part one of the text without part two she’ll be really confused. Plus am I really going to invite her to dinner at my parents’ house via text? Seems rude…or lame…or both.

…I guess I’ll just call her, and if she’s around we’ll talk, but if she’s not I’ll just hang up and she’ll see that I called, and she’ll call me back, and we’ll have a conversation. But, shit, I have to help Mom finish dinner, and then we have to eat dinner, so I don’t really have time to place or make this call right now or later…

15 minutes later, I sent an email.


The ridiculousness of the situation didn’t dawn on me until I was going through old blog postings from last year.

Confession: when I have absolutely no idea what to write I go to the exact same date one year prior, see what I was thinking, doing, worrying about, and take it from there. This morning was one of those mornings, not but because I had absolutely no idea what to write, but because if I write another post about either the fact that I’m moving to LA or how we as 20-something are feeling at our given age you and I are going to lose it. Fair?

So, very sadly, last year on almost this exact date, Senator Ted Kennedy passed away. I remember it like it was not one full year ago, and I remember exactly what I wrote on the unfortunate occasion.

Ted Kennedy’s Telephone

It was a piece about the fact that Ted Kennedy wasn’t afraid to use the telephone. In fact, you could say his use of the telephone was a critical part of his governing style. He called so you knew him – his voice, the tenor of his different moods, the fact that he cared. I suspect it was 75% the fact that Ted Kennedy didn’t grow up with e-mail (or text message, for that matter) and 25% the fact that he knew the power of a personal connection.

We don’t. Well, I have moments were I absolutely don’t. Case in point, see above.

We have become awkward with the phone. We feel weird calling people. We think they think it’s weird when we call. We text things that should be handled with a polite, 3-minute convo. We email things that really require a more detailed conversation.

I’m as guilty as the next person.

But I think what we’ve become conditioned to forget in this modernization of communication systems is that communication isn’t all about efficiency – it’s about communication. What you gain from calling your friend to invite her to dinner at your house isn’t just a confirmation on whether or not she’ll attend. It’s the sound of appreciation in her voice for the invite, excitement in your own mind based on the excitement in her voice, a quick chat about how you’re feeling about the whole dinner event, a quick chat about her date, and an undefinable moment in a friendship where two people re-realize that they are lucky to have each other.

All that from a 5-minute phone call?

Yes. Absolutely. If not more.

And, in my case, an important lesson to be reminded of am I’m moving 3K miles from most of the immediate people in my life as I embark on a 20-something adventure.

Sorry. That was unavoidable.


  1. this is so true! now me myself i have a samsung flip phone, i tell people i wont get a blackberry because then ppl will expect me to BBM them and i dont BBM,not only because im a huge technology snob but because its impersonal, if you want to talk to me give me a call. Same goes with texting, if you text me, i will call you back instead of reply 7 out of the 10 times. I think that if you discontinue something such as a polite phone call, your social skills will suffer just a little more than if you are able to make the phone call without a sense of ackwardness! great post btw.

  2. oh man…you sound like me just about every day. sometimes i think about running away to the hills with no internet OR phone! excellent post.
    p.s.- there is a typo after “confession”….”when i have absolutely not/no idea”….

  3. I hate the phone. I’ve always hated the phone. Before email, instant messaging and texting, I just didn’t talk to anyone on the phone unless it was absolutely necessary. Granted I was like 12, so I could get away with it, but still.
    I still hate calling people at work. I’ll do it if it’s faster than sending an email or IM, but if you call me, I will always be grouchy. I was doing something, I really don’t want to talk to you for the millionth time about this. Really, you couldn’t just reply to my email? What’s wrong with you!

    The only person I call on a regular basis is my mommy. She never cleans out her inbox, so email is not an efficient form of communication with her. I also had to block texts on her cell because she didn’t know how to use them responsibly.

  4. I’ve actually been glad for the decline of the telephone and happy for the acceptance of text-based communication.
    But I’ve come to realize that a lot is missing when that’s all you do. Sometimes I look back at chats and think, “That would have made a better phone call.” It’s tough. I’m grateful for how much easier texting has made some things. It’s made it so much easier to keep in touch with someone little by little when you don’t have time for a call. But it’s sad when I find that texting is actually replacing calling.

  5. I LOVE talking on the phone. I averable about 1500 minutes a month talking, which comes about to about 25 hours…nearly an hour a day. My parents make fun of me because they don’t understand how one person can talk that much. Especially considering I average about 1500 text messages a month, and use Facebook and email to talk to people as well. All the writing is fine and dandy, but I much prefer talking on the phone. I love being able to gauge questions and answers by the inflection of someone’s voice and the words they use. I love hearing sarcasm, and not wondering about it.

    What’s most interesting is that we want everything else in our world to be fast and easy, and yet we revert to texting, emailing, and Facebooking people when a call is truly much faster!! 🙂

  6. Am I the only one who is disappointed when someone you have just met texts to set up a first date instead of calls? To me it seems like a cop out. I recently gave my number to a guy saying something like, “Give me a call when you have the chance.” My roommate thought that was quite ballsy of me, but when he sucked it up and called instead of taking the texting (easy) way out, I thought to myself, “Well played, sir. Well played.” Simply calling me to make plans significantly increased my interest in him.

  7. “Because if I leave a message she’s probably not going to check it because nobody checks messages anymore, so that would be a waste.”

    – This is the part of the post I don’t get at all, and it’s weird because a couple of people have said to me that they don’t check voicemail. How is that possible? What if it was an emergency? I feel like this is just flakiness more than anything else.

  8. Man, you’re so right. Yet, I’m sitting here having a full-on text conversation right now. In fact, I’m sexting while posting a comment. Multi-tasking has never been so wildly efficient.

  9. I recently lost my phone due to a fall from a cliff…long story. You never know how attached you our to a 3×5 inch piece of plastic until it’s gone.

    RIP Sen. Kennedy.

  10. I catch myself texting when a call would be so much more suitable ALL the time.

    I remember when I didn’t even own a cell phone, now I can’t seem to function without it and more than half the time I use it for texting, not calling. Ridiculous…

  11. This causes me so much consternation, and I’ve held off commenting because every time I’ve come back here and re-read this post I want to share some recent phone-related weirdness that usually falls into TMI territory.

    But it does seem like our whole generation is both dependent and terrified of the thing. And text messages seem to have made it worse. And better.

    Great post, is my point.

  12. I am guilty of this phone call avoidance sometimes.

    I’m not sure if it’s to do with technological advancement, rather than I am usually uncomfortable talking on the phone.

    I like your blog 🙂

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