I used to be one of those teenagers who was constantly reprimanded for spending too much time on the telephone. At one point, my parents seriously considered getting me my own number and having me pay for it. (This was the Eighties!) When I was physically with my friends and didn`t need to phone them, we phoned other people, playing pranks. I used to do telephone marketing in foreign languages, and then, of course, I moved to another country and relied on the telephone to keep contact with my family.
Then email arrived and slowly but surely replaced the telephone. I found it less intrusive. Sometimes, I would spend an hour emailing back and forward with my sister, surfing other websites while doing so and munching away without her complaining about the noise. Then came messenger, and then facebook, and phone calls became less and less. Someone once said he didn`t like facebook because it dilutes personal contact by seemingly replacing it. Although I kind of agreed, I didn`t take the warning.
Last year, I was organising my own big birthday party. I never usually celebrate my birthday, but this was a big one, so everyone was invited via facebook. Unless they worked with me, in which case they received a group email.
And then people started to phone me about it and asked for me to phone them back when I wasn`t in. And I was scared. I dialed their numbers willing them not to be in, so I could leave a voicemail, which would then prompt them to leave a message on facebook. Although both were relatives, we never phoned each other, and we hardly saw each other either. It wasn`t necessary. We were all on facebook. I was surprised myself at how stressful I found the prospect of phoning them now; and how relieved when both conversations “went well”.
A few months ago, something happened at work. My colleague texted me on a Sunday before I came back from holiday, and I just couldn`t wait to speak to him, so I asked for permission to call. It felt weird talking to him actually two good colleagues from my own living room, as if we crossed a boundary. We drank from the same cup and spoke about our periods, but we never ever phoned each other outside work or work related nights out.
I wonder how I could allow this to happen. Being scared to telephone people I`m related and close to. And I honestly think social media has done this. If it wasn`t for facebook I would have seen or phoned those two relatives more often. If it wasn`t for texting, we would all phone each other to arrange nights out and would feel less awkward doing so on occasions when texts won`t do. And if we didn`t have email, I`d have those hour long phone conversations with my friends at home much more spontaneously and rather than schedule them just because we can. Phoning feels intrusive now, but it never used to. Smartphones meant to bring us closer together, but I really wonder whether they made us grow further apart instead.
I have one friend who always phones me rather than text or email, and she`s a self confessed technophobe. I sometimes phone her, too, just to prove to myself that I`m still brave enough to do so.
I wonder who`s still visiting friends and family without calling ahead? We don`t. But we used to all the time.