Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I love it when you call but you never call at all

I was just catching up with some recent posts on the fascinating Language Log and I came across this one which includes a link to this webcomic. The discussion on the post and in the comments is around the last frame (captured over there on the right) wherein the featured character (who is apparently called Amber) bemoans her social anxiety about making phone calls.

I'm reassured to find that this is, as the kids say, A Thing, because I've always hated making phone calls. There is some suggestion in the comments that this is a generational thing and that it's particularly prevalent among younger people who've never known a world whenever there wasn't, at a minimum, text messaging or e-mail as an alternative, not to mention Facebook, WhatsApp, etc. etc. There may be something in that, but it certainly doesn't mean that older people don't experience the same thing - my birthdate of 1970 puts me squarely in the middle of Generation X, for instance. Maybe the even older generations didn't suffer from it so much because the phone seemed like such an amazingly cool and convenient gadget compared with the previous methods like writing letters or physically going round to someone's house to talk to them.

A couple of observations specific to my own experience:

There is a sense in which the current generation don't know they're born, and that is that the overwhelming majority of voice calls these days are made via mobile phones. There are several major advantages to this, firstly that mobiles have caller display built-in so you can almost always see who's calling you, especially if it's someone you know. Secondly, a mobile is personal to you, so normal patterns of usage dictate that if you phone someone's mobile either the person you want to talk to will answer, or no-one will. In the old days of landlines that wasn't necessarily the case and there was always the possibility of having to have an unwanted conversation with your girlfriend's Dad, or a mocking older sibling, or - in the imaginary scenario of, say, phoning a male friend who had a father and at least one male sibling, all of whom sounded fairly similar on the phone - having to choose between a couple of nightmare conversational scenarios:
ME: *dials number*
ME: Oh, hi. Um, is Pete there?
MYSTERY PERSON: This is Pete, you idiot.
ME: *dials number*
ME: Oh, hi, Pete, it's Dave.
MYSTERY PERSON: This is Graham, you idiot. 
Obviously these very specific issues are focal points for anxiety for people who probably suffer from general social anxiety in other areas as well. That's certainly been the case for me in the past, though I've found I care less about this stuff as I've got older. Of course that may be partly explained by now having all these other channels to keep in touch by as well. Expansive, easygoing, "normal" people who don't suffer from these anxieties will find the whole thing mystifying, just as they tend not to understand the value of things like Facebook to people who find keeping in touch by other means stressful.

I also recall having a conversation with a friend, roughly my contemporary in terms of age, who expressed the opinion that they didn't use things like text messaging much as they struck them as impersonal and rude, preferring instead to talk directly. I remember expressing some surprise at this and saying that I thought it was the other way round. A text, after all, will just sit in your inbox until you're ready to read it, whereas a phone call demands your attention right now, regardless of what you're doing (which is why many people will nowadays precede a call with a text or something just to ensure it's a good moment).

Again, the extent to which you're bothered by all this probably reflects the degree of general social anxiety you suffer from. When I reflect on the fact that, back in my day, if you wanted to ask someone out on a date, you had to phone their house on a landline and very probably speak to one or other of their parents and know that the conversation was probably being scrutinised even after the phone got handed over, it seems mildly amazing to me that 30-odd years later the world isn't a jungle-infested wasteland devoid of any remnants of the human race whatsoever.


The Black Rabbit said...


Guess you don't spend a lot of time on the phone at work then?

I think some of the commenters on that webpage are probably correct in that these specific anxieties are likely to be far more prevalent in (but not limited to) generation Ys and later. (As you wrote - "There may be something in that....").

You also wrote:
"Expansive, easygoing, "normal" people who don't suffer from these anxieties will find the whole thing mystifying, just as they tend not to understand the value of things like Facebook to people who find keeping in touch by other means stressful."

VERY interesting.
I hadn't given that any thought, to be frank.

I think you know that I don't regard myself as 'easygoing', nor particularly 'expansive' and demonstrably not 'normal' but no, I 'don't suffer from these [specific] anxieties*' and yes, I do 'find the whole thing mystifying'.

Nor did I 'understand the value of things like Farcebook to people who find keeping in touch by other means stressful'.


I didn't appreciate that [value] until I read your blog post today.

I, as you know, have been pretty damning towards most social media. My (ex) relationship with social media "mystifies" (your words) you, I know - but as I tried to explain when I left it all behind - I don't think it adds anything to my life. If anything it genuinely detracts from it - and has the potential (for me) to do so significantly. A personal and unpopular view, I know.

But now, I at least acknowledge there may be another use for facebook etc (that I hadn't really considered before reading your blog post), for people with a specific anxiety I don't* have - and I really should have given that a little consideration before seeing it written on your blog!

* My personal anxiety (du jour) is probably 'small talk'. Cold sweat stuff. *shudder*.

electrichalibut said...

I share your horror of small talk, especially with people I don't know. Well, I suppose by definition small talk is with people you don't know; with people you know you can just start by calling them a cunt and go from there.

And yes, I do have to talk to people on the phone at work, although we have Skype and all that gubbins which makes it less of a chore, and makes just phoning people out of the blue something that happens less often than you might expect.

The black rabbit said...

I think my horror of small talk is reserved only for times I'm FORCED to do small talk.
To the colleagues I barely know (personally if not professionally) before meetings etc.
When I'm free to choose whether or not to engage in small talk with people I don't know (people at a bar, taxi drivers, barbers etc)... that's all fine to me. Quite enjoy it in fact. Because it's MY choice and I don't feel obliged to do it, if that makes sense.