My nemesis the phone

Phone PhobiaIn my quest to deal in a positive way with my current state of loneliness, the writing is on the wall. I need to deal with my nemesis — the phone.

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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

23 thoughts on “My nemesis the phone

  1. Lindsay says:

    As a fellow introvert, I could identify with so much of this. I can wrote eloquently – my ‘voice’ is smooth and comes out well. Get me on the phone or in a work meeting, and I sound like an incoherent idiot.

    • Joshua Bagby says:

      For me I do a lot of stumbling when I talk and then start listening to myself as if I were a separate observer. When I do that I inevitably mess up even more. My poor brain overheats and sputters. Thank you for sharing, Lindsay.

  2. N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ says:

    Josh, I understand where you are coming from. I’ve spent the better part of my working career on the phone because that was a part of my job description. I don’t like talking on the phone a lot — I prefer Skype, but I generally make an exception to those I care about, friends included. Also, I am not tied to the phone in a sitting position. I have a headset with comfortable earbuds so I can move around while talking.

    Also, if someone is kind enough to call me and want to engage in conversation, they will always have my undivided attention. If I can’t give them my undivided attention, I will suggest them calling back or I will return their call. I have a rather cheap phone, not a fancy, expensive one like yours, so I rarely have problems with reception or dropped calls. 😉

    Hope you’re doing well.

    • Joshua Bagby says:

      Victoria, thank you for your comments. I may have to give headsets another chance. They used to be pretty bad and unreliable. Still, the bottom line is that I am not fond of talking to disembodied voices. It feels uncomfortable. And I recognize that this isn’t very helpful for my social life. I have seen that this is a condition that many introverts encounter and deal with.

      • N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ says:

        Hi Josh. Nice to see you posting again. Gosh, disembodied voices sounds so strange to read. As an introvert, myself, I’ve never quite looked at it that way.

        When I’m talking to people I see a person in my mind’s eye. The same happens when I’m reading their email correspondence. From what I’ve read, you’re experiencing a form of social anxiety. I think that having jobs that required me to hone my verbal skills on the phone was beneficial. But, I will say that there are a few people I do not like talking to on the phone at all, and will avoid them like a plague. Those are the ones who simply are not able to carry a conversation, much less an engaging one. I can also tell when people are forcing conversation, and that’s when I’ll soon end the conversation.

        But. ironically, the very people that I have a difficult time engaging in conversation on the phone are the same ones who tend to be/feel socially awkward around people face-to-face. I thought about this article when you mentioned being an introvert. There is a short section about not liking to talk on the phone. Basically, you ain’t gettin’ no dopamine while talking on the phone so you ain’t interested. 😀

        Hoping you have a great weekend.

      • Joshua Bagby says:

        Thanks, Victoria. I had seen the TED Talk by Susan Cain previously, and I liked it a lot. In Myers-Briggs, both INFPs (which I am) and INFJs make up only 1% of the U.S. population apiece. So I think my “social anxiety” often stems from feeling so different from normal. I don’t mind being atypical; it just sometimes makes it hard to find someone to relate to on a deeper level.

        Today I watched the live stream of the conference in Portland, and I was happy to hear a writer say that her writing personality was so much different from her everyday, face-to-face personality. But then she went on to blow me away with her command of the language. I thought her video presence was awesome. Bottom line is that my phone personality is just fine — I have just taken on the fantasy that I don’t like phones.

        Enjoy what’s left of your weekend.

      • Joshua Bagby says:

        Victoria, she said without really elaborating that when she met people who had read her blog, they said, “You’re so different in person.” She added in another answer that online she sounded more “chipper.” She was very interesting. Her name is Christine Lee and she had a stroke when she was 33, wrote a book about it and has a book deal.

      • N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ says:

        Oh — thanks for the quick reply. That’s interesting. I guess I would say I’m more “chipper” in person than I am online, simply because of the nature of my posts and my advocacy work. But, because people in “real-life” tend to not be comfortable around different, I definitely have more of a voice online and can express many more facets of myself, and more depth than I can in the “real world”. Becoming active online was one of the best things that every happened to me. I get to be me.

      • Joshua Bagby says:

        Victoria, in my case for the most part I am letting go of freelance business writing that I have done because there is not that much of it left. I sent my realtor clients to another guy when I left for California. This all frees me up to write what I want to write and not worry about offending clients. I also want to find more of a community somewhere so that I can be more myself in person, too. My “real life” is just a lot more fun-loving and creative than most business will allow. That said, I definitely need to live less virtually than I have been. It does seem that in your case, at least from appearances in your comment sections, you have done quite well in building a community.

      • N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ says:

        Josh, I’m excited about you being able to spend most of your time writing. Yay.

        As far as me building a great online community, I have, and we also talk on the phone, which has added more depth to our friendships. None of them live in my area though, unfortunately. I don’t know how I could have gotten through some tough times without that connection. Living in the Bible Belt is a hostile place for someone who is no longer a believer in the Biblical god. Meeting like-minded people here is very difficult. If I were living in a more progressive area of the country, I wouldn’t have any problems finding an offline community of like-minded — and no doubt I would flourish.

      • Joshua Bagby says:

        Victoria, actually, I am having a challenging time identifying places in my current town where like-minded people hang out. It’s not as provincial here as the legendary Bible Belt, but I still haven’t cracked the code. I am actually wondering if I should move from this town, and if so, what do I hope to find.

      • N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ says:

        “I am actually wondering if I should move from this town, and if so, what do I hope to find.”

        Probably one of the best ways is to Google certain areas you might be interested in — that meet other important criteria for you as well, and look for meet-ups in areas/subjects you might be interested in, or start one (become an organizer) yourself.

    • Joshua Bagby says:

      Victoria, thank you for your comments. I may have to give headsets another chance. They used to be pretty bad and unreliable. Still, the bottom line is that I am not fond of talking to disembodied voices. It feels uncomfortable. And I recognize that this isn’t very helpful for my social life. I have seen that this is a condition that many introverts encounter and deal with.

  3. anon says:

    I wonder if I’m truly an introvert after all because I actually don’t mind the phone. I don’t think there’s a huge difference between how well I express myself orally and how I express myself in writing, so that might be it. (Mistakes in writing are more ‘lasting’, in a way.) Also auditory processors might do well on the phone. People who aren’t good with visual cues may find it no different than talking to someone face-to-face.

    I will say that I do not like unannounced Skype calls because at least with a regular phone call they only hear but don’t see me. But with Skype, an unannounced video call would feel like more of an ‘intrusion’ because they’ll both see and hear me (more senses involved).

    • Joshua Bagby says:

      You bring up some good points. I am not a strong auditory processor but am very good at seeking out subtext of a conversation through observation of body language cues. Video calls do not appeal to me because I don’t like to be rooted in one place for too long. Bottom line though is that this is mostly for people I do not know well. I am much more relaxed with people I know.

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