By not being phone friendly, especially with people I do not know from personal encounters, I am cutting off a major source of social interaction. On more than one occasion I have been told variations on, “Well, duh, if you’re going to hide from talking on the phone, you cannot expect to make and maintain quality friendships.”
I do take some comfort in knowing that my sister dislikes the phone, too. Perhaps it is genetic, although it did not come from my late father’s genes. He liked to gab. He was the extrovert of the family. He would even talk to telemarketers, despite the fact that due to his poor 95 year-old hearing he could not understand half of what they were saying. “What? What? Would you repeat that? Please talk slower.”
UNRAVELING THE MYSTERY
It is not perfectly clear to me why I dislike talking on the phone so much. Here are some guesses:
If the connection is bad, and even if only one word in ten gets dropped, especially on cell phones, it takes extra concentration just to listen and comprehend the other person. Such concentration takes energy away from what could otherwise be used in actually conversing.
This is especially annoying when people start laughing after just saying something, and I have no clue what the punchline was. Even worse is when I am conversing with someone in the midst of an emotional crisis, and I cannot hear what’s going on.
While phones give wonderful feedback in the form of tone of voice, they do not provide visual body language. As someone who is sensitive to nonverbal cues, not having them is frustrating. The other person is equally handicapped, but they don’t have my programming
So yeah, there’s Skype or Facetime or whatever else. It’s not the same as being in person, but it’s better than the visual void.
Then I have to deal with another obstacle: sitting still. When I talk on the phone, I like to move. I can’t stay still any more than Robin Williams or Richard Pryor could deliver a passionate monologue sitting in a chair.
THE INTROVERT CARD
I am a card-carrying introvert. One common characteristic of many introverts is a difficulty dealing with small talk. Just not encoded in my DNA. Small talk is like having to sit through a hundred back-to-back TV commercials for prescription drugs. The 16th time in a row that I hear “Ask your doctor,” my brain becomes unhinged and I fire off sarcastic retorts about profiteering and mass hypnosis.
Small talk too often arms my brain’s detonator. I attempt to be polite and cordial, but my inner voice sometimes goes nuts. Then I have to deal with my inner critic who pokes its stick at me for being a judgmental bastard. You don’t want to mess with my inner critic!
I suspect that years of writer’s training shaped my inner guidance systems to go for the essence of life. I like to play with the big questions. Does life have a purpose? What happens after we die? How is your emotional life going? What makes you ecstatic? What do you struggle with in life? Big questions.
I used to sit down and watch DVD extras where actors, writers, and directors talked about the movie I just saw. Often these conversations would get my creative juices flowing. They often pondered big questions. They got into the guts of their emotions. This is what I wanted my normal life to look like.
I often ruminate on a cultural phenomenon of ours: you often have to pay huge sums of money to have deep, insightful conversations. You have to pay a therapist, an expert, a medium, a counselor, or a coach to go deeper than the thin veneer normal chit-chat allows. In these wired times, that conversation could be via the phone, creating a problem for this guy.
THE WRITER CARD
Being a writer probably has something else to do with it. I have been trained not to be boring. This doesn’t mean that I don’t bore the crap out of some people anyway, but it does mean that I nevertheless stress out when someone is waiting for me to say something brilliant.
When an introvert has nothing to say, it often means that s/he is thinking of too much to say. There are too many reply options. We’re the kind of people who are agog at cable TV shows that are rhetorical gunfights at the Not OK Corral. We see this display as more about grandstanding and showmanship than well-considered discourse or helpful problem-solving.
Ask an extrovert how they are, and many will quickly respond. “Great!”
If you are already questioning that last sentence, then you may be an introvert. You may think, “Why would an extrovert say ‘Great’ if s/he’s feeling shitty?” Over-thinking.
When a person asks me how I am, I first wonder how deep do they want my answer to go. Superficial, non-threatening politeness or deep end of the pool? Any unsafe topics I should avoid in my response? Any secrets I need to keep?
Extroverts are more accustomed to external processing — bouncing ideas off others and thinking out loud. Introverts like to issue fully processed thoughts as if they were press releases. We don’t like to have someone come back later and challenge us with “but you said…” So we like to make sure that we mean what we say, and that takes time and energy.
VOICES FROM THE PAST
At one point in my life, I had achieved some success as a national magazine writer, and that opened the doors for correspondence relationships in the pre-Internet days. One time I got a phone call from someone I had been writing to. After about five minutes, she sad, “I didn’t expect you to be so quiet.”
Which I heard as, “Man, you’re a loser at giving good phone.”
My writing personality is much stronger than my up close and personal personality with strangers. In writing I can organize my thoughts and shape each sentence. There is pacing and flow and the opportunity for precision. On the phone it’s all raw and unorganized. Sometimes when I listen to myself talk, I become majorly embarrassed at how inefficient I can be with words.
I become human. Gasp.
TURNING THE CORNER
I accept that beliefs shape my reality and that much of my phone resistance is due to the narrative I created for myself. Despite what I have written here, I do enjoy chatting with good friends on the phone. I just enjoy more getting out with them and having a full face-to-face experience.
I am not sure yet how I am going to change my mind so that I welcome phone conversations as much as I love something like hugging. Time will tell.
UM … HOLD THE PHONE
Just as I was about to push “publish,” I decided to google people who don’t like talking on the phone. I got some fascinating responses. For instance, there is this one. I’d neglected to mention the invasion factor of the telephone. The ring is an interruption. Stimulus, response. Often I am in the middle of writing when the ringing triggers an instant dilemma of answer or not.
And this one. Ha-ha.
And this one. It brings up another astute point: presence. Often today people in phone conversations are multi-tasking, such as becoming distracted on a website while they are talking and not talking on the phone. It’s also popular today for people to call during their drives or their walks, often not paying attention to key points of the conversation because their brain is otherwise occupied.
I was excited to know that I am in good company on this. Unfortunately. they wouldn’t want to talk about it on the phone.