Gimme me a shout sometime

That headline is a thing of the past.

From 1978, here’s Debbie Harry – to an average voice-call phobic millenial, the gist of this normal-in-its-era song will appear deranged:

Interesting <article> on the RTÉ website about how millenials are afraid of voice-calls.

However, in typical 21st century woke mode, instead of suggesting some basic self-help routines, the article reads as an extended apologia / justification for their various inadequacies.  Some quotes therefrom, and comments:

As humans beings we need certainty and predictability, says Dr Elaine Kinsella, lecturer and researcher in the Department of Psychology at the University of Limerick. “It’s one of our basic, human, social needs. We like to be able to make connections between what happened yesterday and what happens tomorrow… and receiving a phone call often comes out of the blue” and although it might seem like a mundane interruption, any sort of unpredictability or uncertainty can knock us off guard, says Kinsella. Some experience social anxiety which can extend to phone calls and others experience anxiety only about phone calls.”

Eh, not necessarily.  As a kid, from about age 7, I would run to answer the house landline, and prided myself on being able to do so.  Obviously, we all like a measure of predictability, but this should not be to the granular and trivial extent that you need to vet your callers in advance, ffs.  In the landline age, the only people who needed to vet their callers were a minority of people with good reasons for doing so, such as those people being pestered by cold sales callers, or by malicious prank callers. 

In an analogous context, as a student, I used to “thumb” (stand at the side of a major road and hitch lifts with random passing drivers).  One of the aspects I particularly enjoyed when doing so (apart from the free travel) was the glorious unpredictability of the random conversations that would ensue, with strangers.  I always had the idea that you “paid” your fare through engaging the helpful driver in lively conversation – and the conversation should be on their terms.  It was fascinating.  (And, as an introvert, it was always more fun for me to have authentic conversations, with new people one-on-one, as opposed to the kind of cliché-ridden tripe that passes for conversation in group settings between people who already know each other, such as in workplaces, pubs or parties.) 

Once, hitch-hiking in the South of France, an old famer (with a very non-Parisian accent) said: “expliquez-moi la situation politique en Irlande du Nord”.  Another English bloke who gave me a lift wanted only to talk about cricket, for around 100 miles.  And one of the things you learned as a young person in my era was the necessity to take off the blinkers of your own interests, and to have a magpie-like interest in the world, and to be adaptable.  Why shouldn’t I be able, at the drop of a hat, to talk about other people’s interests?  I’m afraid that nowadays, folks are barely able to talk about their own interests, and are sufficiently focussed on their own navels to consider that they should have no social obligation whatsoever to have any enthusiasm for another’s interests.  (In any event, if the other person wasn’t woke enough, or didn’t share their particular sub-brand of identity politics, the millennial might be so disgusted and triggered that s/he’d be unable to speak anyway lol.)   

Anyway, I have zero interest in cricket, but I can spoof on almost any topic, so off I went, asking questions about the Duckworth Lewis method, and pretending to be interested in the best way to hold a cricket bat.  And, of course, in return, I learned more about cricket, and the guy, grateful at my seeming interest in his obsession, as a kindness, drove me on past his stop.  Win-win. 

Another truck driver, a former (or, as we used to say, a “failed” priest), wanted to chat about scholastic philosophy and architecture for miles.  Someone else might be an old farmer who wanted to chat largely about the price of livestock.  Or a middle-aged couple who were worried about their son or daughter not doing enough work at university, and, unfeasibly, asking my advice. Seeing my mohawk haircut, one guy discussed 195os pop music, and how it compared to punk. You could end up chatting about anything.

The point is that, whether on phone calls or thumbing lifts, far from being panicked by the “unpredictability” of such social interactions, it was that very unpredictability that I most enjoyed.  It all depends on how you look at it. “Unpredictability” is a synonym for spontaneity. Even when I had the bus or train fare, I always preferred to hitch anyway, unless the weather was truly awful.    

How boring are you, if you only like talking about the same stuff that you always talk about, to people you already know.

Fucking pathetic. 

If you think about it, you probably already know what makes phone calls more difficult. “I can only hear your voice, I can’t see your face, I can’t see your facial expressions, I can’t see your body language, I can’t see any gestures,” says Kinsella. “I’m fully reliant on your voice to give me cues and to explain where it is that you’re coming from, what it is that you’re trying to communicate with me. Face-to-face its easier to read between the lines and get a clearer sense of what you’re trying to communicate that perhaps you aren’t saying in words …  When we’re talking to somebody we build a relationship with them quite quickly. If a person is awkward or nervous, often the other person will pick up on that and smile, nod, offer encouragement through their facial expressions or body language, and that can help to make somebody feel more comfortable. That’s very difficult to do on the phone … It’s synchronous, you have to respond immediately, you can’t just say nothing for half an hour.”

“… that you aren’t saying in words”.  Fuck me.  The whole point of a phone call is that it is a verbal medium.  “Words” are the point! Being on a voice call forces you to cut out the passive aggressive shrugs and silences, the poisonous euphemisms, and the deliberately-leaving-things-unsaid-and-expecting-the-other-person-to-mind-read bullshit.  You’re obliged to be cheerful, frank and articulate.  If you can’t manage that, in my view, you’re intellectually and socially inadequate, and in need of remedial educational and psychological attention.   

Being on the phone can be an intense experience. We can become very conscious of how we sound, thinking about whether the other person understanding what we’re trying to communicate, says Kinsella. “Human beings, we want to feel a sense of belonging, a sense of connection with other people. We don’t want to be left out, we also want to have a positive feeling about ourselves, we don’t want to be judged negatively by other people.”

Oh here we fucking go.  The writer has as good as admitted that the millennial problem is unbridled narcissism and an unwillingness to focus on the other person’s informational or social requirements.   Whether you’re imparting information, or having some banter, it should be driven by a focus on the other person.  But if you’re obsessing about yourself and how you might come across, I’m sorry, you’re a selfish, self-obsessed, po-faced bore. It’s OK to be that self-conscious for a period in your early teens perhaps, but to posit this short-lived developmental awkwardness as a reason why telephone calls are difficult and “intense” for everyone is worrying.   

There’s always moral panics around new technology anyway. Most people adapt and learn how to use them really well,” Holohan says.

I’m not panicked at all.  I just feel sorry for them. 

And here’s Feargal Sharkey, wondering, since you have his number, “why don’t you use it“?

Sadly, nowadays, the answer to that particular question would be that the would-be caller is scared to call, and in any event has convinced herself that to do so would be unpardonably intrusive.

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