Give me a call, or actually please don’t

One of the most fun things about being a certain generation, is getting mystified about the habits of others. Specifically in this case it’s about the modes of communication. I know I’m not alone when I say I often get sweaty hands when making or getting a phone call. But, growing up in an era when calling was the most instant way of communicating, I’m convinced of that it has certain advantages.

Does anybody outside of an office still use these?

This is definitely not the case for the next generation, Gen Z, who seem to abhor phone calls even more than we millennials do. A while ago, the intern at my previous company caught me by surprise when he told me a story about filling out a contact form and then ‘suddenly’ receiving a call. He’d preferred getting an email or chat message, or even an invitation to a video call. Anything but a phone call basically. And certainly not an unannounced one. When I made the argument that it was the most direct way of communicating, he very much disagreed. He found that there should be an immediate response, and otherwise an invitation to set up a meeting instead of a ‘random phone call’.

Now, apparently this is a clear generational shift. Looking into it a bit further, I think both generations apply different standards to our experiences. For those born after the 2000s, technology was omnipresent and there’s no need to wait on anything. Instant gratification are the key words. And I think in general, this now fuels the way we connect and contact each other. We’re used to putting things to our hand, or at least having the illusion of control over things. We decide when to share something, when to initiate a conversation and also when to be contacted.

At the same time, where digital communication is increasingly about being more visible, having blue checkmarks behind your messages, and showing your face, I think making a phone call has some sort of nostalgia to it. It brings me back to those early days of rambling with friends for hours on the phone (although in all honesty I’ve probably done that less than 5 times) and we valued hearing each others’ voices since it was the closest we could get when not in the same spot. A pixelated moving face adds something, but also detracts something from that experience somehow.

But I think one of the main reasons people don’t like to call, is because it’s a weird mix between high anonymity and complete personalization. You hear someone else’s voice, the inflections in what’s being said and can match that voice with a (more or less) accurate photo. But at the same time, you don’t see the other person, nor does she or he see you. If you want to emphasize something or be sarcastic about it, you can only convey that through your voice, not any other non-verbal communication.

I get it, we’re now used to have either more complete anonymity (email/chat) or full personalization (video call). Having someone call you out of the blue now makes me think of telemarketeers or donation requests. Communication has become exemplified by convenience. No waiting for weeks for a letter or saving up to make a monthly phone call to someone on the other side of the world. They are replaced by buffering speeds and noisy environments. But who knows, when generation Alpha or Beta (are we really starting from the beginning of the alphabet again?) become adults, there’s probably a whole new, better and convenient way of communicating. Perhaps Google Glass makes a comeback, you never know.

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