BETWEEN THE AGES OF 13 AND 16, I spent around ﬁve gleeful hours a night on the phone. If you don’t believe me, ask my long-suffering dad. It’s seared into the poor man’s memory because he had to pay the bill, while simultaneously never once getting an opportunity to make a phone call of his own after 5pm for three years.
Let me paint a picture for you. As soon as night fell, our 0208 Greater London number essentially became a teenage hotline directly to me, Pops acting as some kind of huffy personal secretary who disapproved of most callers, thanks to the only two bits of information a three-second salutation could offer. One: that they had the audacity to be calling at all, and two: that if they couldn’t pronounce their Ts, they were bad news. In south London, this was pretty much everybody.
Anyway, not to brag, but as well as just being a fan of Alexander Graham Bell’s work in general, I was damn good on the phone to boot. Lightning-quick witticisms, bon mots for days, a number of well-formed yet seemingly off-the-cuff opinions on topics as broad as undulating school-skirt lengths to which 127 bus stop was a hotbed of prospective boyfriends… all while deftly navigating the impenetrable waters of dialling in another number for a three-way call. Reader, let me tell you, my ear barely even got hot against the receiver. I was a telecommunications ninja.
You would think, then, that having my very own portable telephonic device would be something of an unparalleled joy. And – apart from sadly now being the one who pays for it – it is. But the thought of using it to actually communicate with someone in real time, via the medium of spoken word, seems as antiquated, and as petrifying, as receiving a message coiled just above the ﬁlthy, frankly quite dangerous claws of a squawking carrier pigeon.
I thought this last week when I read about Hotline, a new app launched in NYC that connects, er, like-minded people. Before you can move on to messaging, you have to endure a phone call that lasts no less than ﬁve minutes. Five minutes! With a complete stranger! It’s dystopian madness, sent to break us all.
You see, despite my absurdly chatty youth, I am very much a card-carrying millennial, and what – aside from our irritating sense of entitlement – is our grand, deﬁning characteristic? A near-catatonic fear of unsolicited calls, that’s what.
According to a study taken in the UK by Ipsos MORI, 76 per cent of adults own smartphones, but 25 per cent of them don’t use them for calls. We are literally – literally – using them for everything else; an alarm, a weather vane, a device to store every cat meme that’s ever graced the internet, but for calling? Have some decorum! What do you think WhatsApp’s for?
The theories about why phone anxiety exists include that our reliance on consuming information at our own speed has usurped the ability to do or say anything spontaneously, be that take an unexpected call, or watch anything that isn’t on-demand. Remember the uproar when WhatsApp introduced the blue ticks? That’s ’cos we were all going, “How DARE they thwart my ability to pretend I haven’t seen a message until I’ve had ample time to formulate a witty response. How VERY DARE THEY!”
The other theory, of course, is that we’re all just a bit thick now. That, and slightly socially awkward. After all, ‘LOL’ is not an appropriate response to someone at the other end of the phone. Although maybe it should be. Maybe if we all agreed that ‘LOL’ is an acceptable get-out-of-jail-free card when we’re stumped on a call, we’d all sleep a little easier. Who’s with me?