Do You Have an Aversion Toward Answering The Phone?

October 7, 2013

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Sometimes I feel like The New York Times lives inside my pee-wee sized microcosm of a brain, sussing out my deepest, most intrinsic (but make no mistake, incredibly banal) thoughts, to exploit them into feature stories for their paper and magazine. Other times, I feel like it is my great grandfather from Austria (disclaimer: I have no family from Austria) but that’s irrelevant.

Caeli Wolfson Widger recently wrote a story titled “Why I Silence Your Call, Even When I’m Free” for the magazine. When I read the headline, I made like Sally (of Ephron fame) and yelled, “Yes! Yes! Oh! Yes!”

When I read the story, I found that her anecdote was endearing. Recounting the all-too-familiar experience of watching someone’s name pop up on your phone screen while from your computer, you maniacally refresh your twitter feed thus inferring at least some time to take a call and yet still ignoring it, I nodded in complete agreement with all the nuances she described to successfully eschew the prospect of phone to ear.

Often I, too, will let the call go to voicemail and then text whoever rang to say “sorry! So busy!”

Let it be known, I’m not that busy.

Widger goes on to touch upon an important question: why won’t we just take the damn call? The problem is, she doesn’t really answer it. Instead, she offers her own personal resolution by way of a lesson learned (the friend she was subtly ignoring really needed her to listen right then and there on that day while she grieved about the circumstances of her domestic and occupational situation) while the rest of us are left hanging, wondering why our un-listened-to voicemail count remains at a staggering 11, and the collection of missed calls from our moms, best friends, significant others and so forth continues to go missed, even when they don’t have to.

The other problem is, I don’t really have an answer. I just know that I hate talking on the phone. It may have started as an anti-cancer ploy, underpinning my reluctance to allow radiation to penetrate my brain but lately too, I’ve been finding myself liable to get in trouble when I do take calls.

Being on the phone never detracts from my being on the computer and often because it is the visual behemoth staring me right in the eye, I will pay much more attention to it than I will to the words being transported via cell. And then I will agree to do things I didn’t want to do just to get the phone call over with (examples of such run the gamut from dinner with relatives I really never wanted to see again to writing a full length feature story for a magazine that doesn’t actually exist at something like, six cents a word) and then I have to wonder, well, what now?

Do you know what I mean?

No?

Okay then! I’m going to turn the mic over to you. What’s the big deal with taking a call? What are we putting off?

  • http://www.southernbel.com/ Annabel J.

    Most of the time when people call they’re looking for something they want or need. It’s not about you; it’s about them. They need to talk about their work problems, they want to tell you about something amazing that their significant other did for them, or they want you to do something for them.

    Also, getting off of phone calls can be so awkward.

  • dana_what

    YES. All of this. I think I’m too used to having to tune out auditory distractions and stay focused on the visual task in front of me, to the point that frequently, if I’m really having trouble concentrating on what someone on the phone is saying, I have to close my eyes and focus to do so. Also, I’d rather carefully choose my words on a matter (send an email, text, etc.) than be put on the spot, jumble my words, and feel like an idiot.

  • Michael

    I think the visual thing is HUGE. I’ve never been great on the phone because I’m so distracted by whatever I can actually SEE during the phone call. So then the conversation becomes more difficult to keep up with. There’s also something about not being able to see someone’s expressions and body language that makes the phone really awkward, which then makes it feel like WORK instead of like something to look forward to. Also a phone call always feels like a crap-shoot when it comes to getting OFF of the phone. I think that’s why I never ignore or dread Skype or Google video calls — I’m looking at someone, I can tell when everyone is antsy to go, and it feels more genuine. So for me it’s about the quality of the interaction. If it’s not face-to-face, I’d rather just interact on text or chat.

  • Maxine

    Personally, I’m just not always in the right disposition to be social, even just over the phone. If I’m in one of my “retreat and recover” moments, where I collect my thoughts and father my strength for the next round of socialising, I likely won’t pick up the call. Unless you’re one of my closest friends -then, talking to you isn’t too draining and I’ll take it, because it might be important, and it’s just the nice thing to do!

    • Maxine

      gather* my strength. Fathering it would be kind of weird.

  • Tamara

    And then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse…the face time request! And it NEVER comes when you’re looking cute, no! It’s always at the frizzy haired smeared mascara part of the day!

    • Leandra Medine

      See, I’m more compelled to answer a facetime request than I am a call. So maybe that visual element really is an important factor

      • Tamara

        Well then you must look as cute as in your blog pics all the time…

  • Chloe

    I was fired from work because I had my phone on mute for two consequent days and frankly didn’t care, what they were calling me for. The thing is, phone calls terrify me. Even if they’re from people I know and maybe like, I just stare at the phone wishing I could see in the future and know what it is they want to tell me. I thought I was insane until I read this article. And now I understand that it is mostly because I’m too scared I’ll have to tell somebody how I am these days, and I’ll give a nonchalant “Fine” and wish 100 times over that they could just see what this means. Or maybe I’m scared it’s from a friend wanting to meet and I’m too depressed to socialise. Or maybe I just want to not disrupt my thoughts? The fact is, I’ve never liked or understood people who talk on their cells for hours (on the bus eg.). Maybe our culture that has made communication so easy has also made persons that aren’t so good at it even more introspective and asocial? Just a thought.

  • Pooja

    I feel like we, I, avoid calls because its too sporadic. When I see a friend calling, I look at the screen for a few minutes a decide what they might want, and why it is so important they called instead of texting me. Texting has this new connection, texts aren’t as serious, they’re calm, and you can take your time to respond. Phone calls on the other hand, everything is so fast your reactions are natural, and sometimes given a certain circumstance you want to stay pose. Texting allows you that time in between to contain yourself.

    Texting gives you the time you need to respond. Calling is sporadic and you can’t sit on the phone for 4 minutes and gather your thoughts. We’re a lazy generation.

  • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

    *sigh* phones … one of the reasons I hate them is my lousy timing during the conversation: without any visual clues and because phones make me slightly nervous and impatient, I might interrupt you or keep quiet till you wonder whether I’m still there and then say goodbye the second you said it … I suck at that. Also: my voice is sometimes unpleasant if I sit and type without speaking for too long, so I hate to listen to my own tired voice and it shows. And I always assume someone wants something from me if the phone rings, which is often true … So I always ignore phones during the weekend and between 12 and 1 pm during the week, because it’s lunch time. And after 6 pm, because it’s “after work”, nominally.

    We even had our phone line disconnected because we hadn’t signed papers they sent us, because we hadn’t read their letters. And we noticed the problem months after the disconnection … LOL …

    Occasionally, there are articles in HuffPost telling us we are all introverts if we want to discuss important things only, don’t always pick up the phone and need some alone time to recuperate our much-needed energy. Don’t know about the label (introvert), but I expect others to respect my phone behaviour, too :-))

  • Lewellen Design

    I enjoyed talking on the phone back in the dark ages. It began to go sour with the answering machine and with cell phones it’s come to a very dark place. Obligation and explanation seem to be entwined with phone calls. If you don’t answer your cell, heaven forbid!, then the land line is called, the FB wall is annotated, the tweets begin and so on until there are messages left everywhere that it is possible to, in fact, leave a message. Most often, the reason for such a plethora of phone pleas is rather mundane and could be left to stew for a while. But, I think it’s the inherent demand of my undivided attention, wherever I am and whatever I may be doing, that incites a willful protection of my communication boundaries. I love my friends and family but I am already enough at the mercy of the world and I have to draw a line somewhere and sadly, the line of last resort seems to be the ringtone of my phone.

  • Charlotte Fassler

    I’m always pleased to talk on the phone. I have a much harder time expressing myself via text message, especially since giving up my blackberry and getting an iphone which restricts my word per minute rate. However, because we have become so accustomed to typing our thoughts my immediate reaction when someone calls is that there is some sort of emergency causing me to gear into panic mode and either answer the call or ignore it all together in fear of what I will hear on the receiving end.
    That being said, I find more can be accomplished over the phone and I prefer the ease of a back and forth conversation without the luxury of time to craft a perfect visual response.

    • hannah

      exactly. whenever my phone rings, my first thought is, “WHO DIED?!”

  • alejandra

    WHEN MY PHONE RINGS, I FEEL LIKE I AM IN TROUBLE! creditors, my mom, my grandma, my roommate who puts his anxieties on me, my boss, etc. etc.

  • Daniela

    Text messages and social media are to blame. I have the same hesitation when my phone rings, but its not because I am scared of being yelled at. It’s because I feel incapable of multitasking and keep doing what I was doing if I pick up the call. And who knows how long the call will last. In my opinion our generation is always too busy (work, social media, online shopping, texting, browsing) and there is no time to leisurely speak on the phone (because we are never bored!). It can be a sad reality, but I honestly prefer texting and getting to the point rather than having to stop whatever I am doing and talk for hours. Also, with social media now days everyones life is out there. theres no curiosity on hows someones life is going. you know everything so the allure of talking on the phone and learning about your friends/family whereabouts and life in general is gone. We also text with those same people calling hence in our minds when the phone rings ” why are you calling me? text me!”

  • Daniela

    Text messages and social media are to blame. I have the same hesitation when my phone rings, but its not because I am scared of being yelled at. It’s because I feel incapable of multitasking and keep doing what I was doing if I pick up the call. And who knows how long the call will last. In my opinion our generation is always too busy (work, social media, online shopping, texting, browsing) and there is no time to leisurely speak on the phone. It can be a sad reality, but I honestly prefer texting and getting to the point rather than having to stop whatever I am doing and talk for hours. Also, with social media now days everyones life is out there. theres no curiosity on hows someones life is going. you know everything so the allure of talking on the phone and learning about your friends/family whereabouts and life in general is gone. We also text with the same people that call hence in our minds when the phone rings ” why are you calling me? text me!”

  • Catherine

    So many of us phone haters here speak to being “visual” people. i am the same! And in what other circumstance will I immediately give my attention to someone/something randomly shouting “ME, NOW, LISTEN, ME, NOW, LISTEN” unless its a fire alarm? My message says “send me a text or call back”. That’s the deal.

  • Name

    I think I’m going to get told off for being naughty, told something bad has happened or asked to do something I don’t really want to do and be put on the spot to answer.

  • Norwegian

    My mom once called me a “social introvert”, which seems to hold true for me. It is where you can be very social and have alot, but also be good being by yourself (and often needing that alone time). While I love sitting and have long conversations with friends when I am with them, I honestly really don’t like talking on the phone, and am not the best at it. I think that might be because when I’m alone or already had my day planned out, the idea of something interrupting that alone time or day plan just seems exhausting. I found myself preferring to text or facebook with my friends to keep in touch because, while you are still having a conversation, you can answer them back in your own time.

  • Hereshoping Themayanswereright

    I feel trapped being on the phone and also like I’m being forced to have my time wasted.So if I’m working, I just put them on speaker and go about my business. I only use my cell for emergencies, b/c a friend worked at at&t when cell phones had just come out and had access to an internal memo communicating lab results regarding the effects of cumulative cell phone radiation exposure resulting in brain cancer. Everyone knows I will not talk on my cell, so I rarely get calls when I’m out and about.

  • tt

    i don’t actually “dodge” calls, sometimes i just don’t feel like talking. so, I’ve let my family and close friends know a long time ago not to take it personal. Sometimes I don’t have much to talk about and neither do they; unfortunately, I have little patience and breathing on the phone drives me INSANE, sorry.

  • thezeeman1982

    I’m not sure why I hate answering my phone or making calls for that matter. I’m this way with everyone people I like and some I don’t get the same cold phone treatment. Its something about people being able to contact me whenever they want that annoys me I think. I’m get with people in person but can’t seem to stand picking up or calling them myself……Its like i feel annoyed.