Saturday, December 19, 2009

why I don't return your phone calls

First off, I don't know if this will make you feel any better, but it's not personal: I don't return anybody's phone calls.

I hate talking on the phone. Hate it. Hate it. I like you tons, and I wish we lived closer so I could see you more often. And even though I know that my unwillingness to answer the phone when you call or to return your phone calls in any reasonable space of time is a constant strain on our relationship, I can't make myself get any better at it.

Please understand that it's not personal: I don't answer anybody's phone calls. I don't return anybody's calls in a reasonable space of time.

Teh social phobia: I haz it.

I've worked hard on tackling my anxieties, and I like to think I've done fairly well for myself in this respect. If you've wondered why I'm so obsessed with social media technologies, part of the answer is that I've used them to cobble together a series of workarounds: I've developed strategies for engaging in the types of conversations I like to have while avoiding the tools and encounters that cause me the most anxiety. Among which the phone conversation is numero uno.

It was bad enough when you had a land line, and I had a land line, and everybody had a land line. But then we all got cellphones, and every aspect of voice communication got that much harder for poor little rich girls like me. I can't tell when I'm interrupting you. I can't hear or rely upon the subtle cues: variation in the tone of your voice, pauses, or breath. The social connection, so essential and so difficult for someone like me to establish in the first place, becomes even more elusive.

There are new technologies whose designs make remote social connections easier to establish (cf. Skype, Google Video). I hope that some day these technologies will become the norm for all of us, overtaking the cellphone (my guardian, my executioner.) I also harbor a secret hope that if cellphones really are here to stay, I'll eventually cultivate the type of persona that makes people say, Oh, well, that's just Jenna--brilliant but eccentric. She refuses to talk on the phone! So we use other technologies to communicate with her. (It hasn't happened yet, but here's hoping for success in the new decade.) Until then, I hope you can understand that I love you but hate the technology.

Oh, and I sent you a package. It should arrive in the next day or two. You can text or email or tweet me when you get it.


Anonymous said...

I hate cellphones: they're little, hard to hear (OK I probably need a hearing text), hard to hold (arthritis is sneaking in), and generally icky. I do talk to my mother via phone because I now am terrible at writing letters or personal emails--but for years and years I did letters (via manual typewriter) because I was broke student and phone calls cost money. That meant my dislike of phone calls was masked by 'logical' reasons (no money, here have a lovely typed letter). These days at work I much prefer email because (ahaha), there is a RECORD.

Of course now I'm being told by my students that they don't use email, only texting and facebook, and I am being grumpy about it.

But mostly I am replying because I LOVE the cat macros and am snagging the second one and oh yes I don't want to grade papers.

invention addict said...

I used to design cell phones for two companies and I hated then then and now. I'm more a text kind of guy. I like to gather my thoughts and make my message concise.


Jenna McWilliams said...

yay, there are people out there like me! It's nice to know I'm not alone. And...would you happen to have any advice for me on the fact that there are so many people disappointed in my phone unavailability that I don't even know how to begin to make things right?

Anonymous said...

That's what I love about LJ (and I suppose it's true in other social networking sites, I am just LJ snob): every time I post about some characteristic I have, thinking I am the only one ever, I get lots of "me toos" lining up on the post--it's wonderful. Just wonderful.

And there's the other take: your perspective on the phone issue gelled my own avoidance in a way I'd never thought of before, and suddenly it made so much sense.

I'm not really sure that I ever felt I had to make things right with people--in the earlier days, I was writing letters. These days,well, I am just swamped with work and a lot of people I know are as well, so we're sort of mutually forgiving, I hope.

Maybe send a link to this post to them? I guess that the problem for some of them MIGHT be that they see your avoidance of the phone as avoidance of them, so it becomes a personal issue (that's my reading of what you say in your blog here), and showing them that it is not them, but the medium, might begin to address it (I don't know that it will).

invention addict said...


You asked for advice ... as for giving advice; "wise men don't need it and fools won't heed it" but here goes.

I understand the reluctance to communicate via phone but we are living in a time where instant communication is an social norm. You could always at a minimum acknowledge the call via a different medium )e-mail, text, etc.) At least they are not left hanging.

My dad once said "sometimes you need to do what you don't want to do." If a friend calls, do you owe it to the friendship or the person to return the call?

I don't like calling people, I'll talk if they call me but I always feel like I'm rushing off the phone. I would be a terrible salesperson.

Think how the other person would feel and act accordingly.




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