phone for you

Over at the Atlantic Yglesias and McArdle are both confessing their hatred for the telephone, at least as an instrument for, um, telephoning. This is a loathing I share, and have for a long time. I started using email in 1992, and at that time I didn’t know many other people who used it, so I was mostly stuck with making and receiving phone calls. In the next five years, more and more people I knew got email addresses, but I couldn’t be sure they used them, so discernment was required. But by 2000 I had pretty much abandoned the telephone, with great joy — I felt that my loathing of it had finally become socially acceptable, or at least justifiable. I’m required to have voicemail at my office, but my greeting — or perhaps I should say “greeting” — doesn’t even offer the option of leaving a message, instead instructing people to email me. (Of course, people still do sometimes leave messages, but I email them instead of calling them back.)

I have two friends — both, interestingly, younger than me — who are confirmed phone-callers and seriously dislike email, and this has become rather a point of tension in those friendships. (And one other dear friend who hates email, but there’s no tension there because I don’t ask or expect her to communicate that way.) One of the two has budged a little bit, the other not at all, and I’m not sure what to do about this. I cannot think of a single occasion when my non-budging friend has called me at a time when I could take his call, and only rarely is he available when I call him back. By the time we’re done playing phone tag, we could have exchanged half-a-dozen emails and be totally caught up.

I know I should probably be more flexible — especially since there’s something to be said for the idea that there’s a kind of connection you get when friends hear each other’s voices — but in my defense I would argue that concentration is a rare and valuable commodity for me, and few things disrupt concentration more completely than a phone call. If I get an email or an IM I can either reply later, when my current work session is over, or I can send a quick reply immediately that promises a fuller response in due course.

And then there’s this: in the last three or four years my wife and I, whenever we’re separated by travel, tend to stay in touch via IM rather than the phone, even when the phone would be just as convenient. I’m not sure why this is — I need to think about it some more — but it does suggest a shift, among some people anyway, in what registers as intimacy. We don’t feel any less connected to each other via IM; if we did, we’d stop using it. That may have something to do with the fact that we’re both introverts — certainly that’s part of the larger story, as Yglesias makes clear. (And by the way, the comments to both posts offer some interesting hypotheses.)