stop texting and pick up the phone; it will make you happier

Snapchat and Instagram Stories can never replace the delicious sound of your friend's voice in your ear.

by Mattie Kahn
14 November 2016, 3:50pm

According to a 2014 Gallup poll that will shock zero people, text messages have replaced phone calls as millennials' favored mode of communication. The research finds that 68 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say they texted "a lot" the previous day, which seems low. (Maybe the rest of them decided to exchange witticisms on Instagram Stories; [shrug emoji].)

Meanwhile, The Washington Post declared in 2010 that "the kids" have "pushed the telephone conversation into serious decline." The Post lays the "fall of the call" at the feet of 18- to 34-year-olds, citing Nielsen data that finds that millennials' "average monthly voice minutes have plunged from about 1,200 to 900" between 2008 and 2010. By now, that figure is probably somewhere around the amount of time it takes to say, "I love you, Grandma" once a week.

By 2013, The Wall Street Journal was on to the trend. And in 2015, Business Insider joined the pile-on. It published a treatise on "telephone anxiety," speaking to social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson to find out exactly why the tinny sound of voices so intimidates millennials. She chalked it up to disuse. "If your dominant form of communication with people hasn't been the phone," she said, "then you're going to naturally be more anxious using that form of communication."

Bosses, conservative radio hosts, uncles at Thanksgiving—they're all up in arms. If only they knew who Drake was, they'd splash his lyrics all over their op-eds: "You used to call me on my cell phone."

Except, we still do. At least, some of us.

In college, my roommates and I were avowed phone people. We were four millennial women, all fierce, independent, Snapchat-obsessed. And yet despite our voracious appetite for social media, Google Hangouts, Slack, text messages, and even the occasional well-timed DM, we deviated from supposed convention. We used up our minutes. We spent hours, jabbering away. We dialed between classes and appointments and on the nine-minute slink from some dude's room to our door. We texted our best friends, demanding a time to chat. We had news or had heartbreak or just needed their voice in our ears. We were unicorns, the data wanted us to believe. Because unlike our peers, we loved, savored—reveled in!—our over-the-phone conversations.

Aminatou Sow, co-host of Call Your Girlfriend, "a podcast for long-distance besties," insists that while boomers believe millennials are too scared to communicate, the fact is she still uses the phone or Skype for the most sacred of conversations—the BFF catch-up sesh, the familial check-in, and, of course, the podcast. Each week, she and Ann Friedman reconnect over culture, politics, and best practices of self-care—and they let a bazillion women eavesdrop. Sow contends that the millennials she knows still value the phone conversation. We've just made it maybe a little too precious. The phone isn't obsolete: it's just become a little holier.

Sow bubbles over: "The truth is the reason that all these technologies—texts and gchat and Snapchat—are popular is because they're faster ways to get in touch with someone. And we need that convenience." We have jobs, commutes, Slack channels. "You're at work all day; you can't spend hours on the phone," Sow concedes. "If you want to get in touch with someone, you text, sext, whatever. If you want to connect with someone, I still think a phone call is the best way to do that."

And if, as Halvorson suggests, an over-the-phone conversation makes you nervous, Sow wonders whether you're anxious about the phone itself or the person on the other end of it. "I think what people have noticed is that the Internet has made it really easy to fake intimacy," Sow says. "You can chat with someone literally every day for hours over gchat and a few months later think, 'Is that person really my friend?'"

It's true. It's a puzzle. Luckily, it's easily solved. Call them. Have a real conversation, awkward silences and all. The theatrics, the excitement of it—it's addictive. It's human. Text is fine, sometimes witty, good. But it can't portray the nuances of emotion like voices or faces can. It's no wonder nineteenth-century lovers tied a lock of hair with ribbon and stuffed it in an envelope. They wanted to send a trace of themselves by post. They did the best they could. And you should, too. So, if you're terrified, let's ease into it step-by-step, okay? Because I promise: whoever you are, whatever your limitations, the phone call is for you.

The People You Love
Take a deep breath. Now, think of a person whose very essence makes you smile. If you're me, you memorized her number in middle school. Dial it. If she answers, tell her a joke or a story or rant about your office nemesis. If she doesn't, leave her a message and say, "I was thinking of you and wanted to let you know."

"You don't need a reason to call someone," Sow says. "I've even become that monster who leaves voicemails, like notes. I do it to say, 'Hey, I love you. I miss you. I saw this thing that reminded me of you and I wanted you to know.'"

Still petrified? Think of it this way: How delicious would it feel if someone did that for you? All of a sudden, "you're unstoppable," Sow pronounces. "A phone call makes you feel so loved, so known." The nicest text in the world, a haiku in 140 characters, a sonnet in emoji—it isn't a substitute.

The People You Work With
"I deal very much in the nuance of voices," says Josh, 28, a New York-born Los Angeles transplant and enthusiastic conversationalist. "The fact that so much of text is in about how much you read it—you lose a lot."

And he's a particular fan of the medium for work. When he has to have a hard conversation, he tries to pick up the phone. A text, he says, doesn't "cut through the noise." It just drowns out real intention. If you have to deliver bad news or own up to a mistake, realize that the more human you're able to be, the better it's bound to go.

And just think: every time we decide to call instead of email, we save the world one more senseless "hope you're well." We spare it our "very best" and "many thanks." It's true that a conversation can be awkward, stilted, too intimate. But the banalities of standardized business email are so much worse.

The People Whose Emails Wikileaks Will Hack"
I never send a text I wouldn't want the whole world to see," says Rachel, 24, a medical student. A phone conversation, she elaborates, is more private. You can't copy and paste it or forward it or bcc someone on your response." Given our increasingly public world, that has real value.

But whether or not you've given up on the myth of privacy in our cyberspace era, the phone makes its own case. It has its own charms. Listen very closely the next time you pick one up; you'll hear them. 


Text Mattie Kahn
Photography Harry Carr

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