As I sit down to write this blog post there is the dreaded sound of a prolonged vibration as my phone skids, bouncing and sporadically across my desk. This is perfectly ideal and ironic distraction that actually befits the very thing I am thinking about and from which it is distracting me… Itself!
I have always had an absolute detest for talking on the phone. And I’ll say now that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the person at the other end, I just find it a horrible tool for communicating with.
I think I probably am, and always have been worse than most people when it comes to using the phone (in the traditional sense, ie speaking to people) but if you can identify with any of this then read on. If you’re thinking, “what are you on about, I love the phone” then you’ll probably just get confused, but if you also have friends who ‘never answer the phone’ then this might help you to understand them a bit better.
I can’t sum it up any better than Sophia Dembling in her article, 9 Signs that You Might Be an Introvert:
“I rarely answer my telephone, often forget to check voicemail, and can take a shockingly long time to return phone calls.
So sue me.
The telephone is intrusive, especially for introverts, whose brains don’t switch gears all that quickly. When we’re deep in thought, a ringing telephone is like a shrieking alarm clock in the morning.
And we often give bad phone—awkward, with pauses. We struggle without visual cues, and our tendency to ponder before we talk doesn’t play well on the telephone. Being stuck on a too-long call makes me want to chew off my own leg to escape.
Sometimes, if I’m feeling devil-may-care, I’ll pick up calls from far-flung friends who want to catch-up, But I more often let them go to voicemail and then make a date (via email) for us to talk. My friends understand.
Dislike of the phone is often presented as a moral failing. But honestly, it’s not the people on the phone we dislike, it’s the instrument of delivery.”
It’s Not a Choice
I’ve always hated the fact that I hate the phone because it has felt like that ‘moral failing’ she describes. It’s something that has annoyed me about myself, not least because I know it is annoying to others when I’m hard to reach and slow to respond. But I’ve come to realise that it’s not a choice, I’m not being deliberately rude and aloof. There are times when I literally cannot switch my brain to a place where I can answer the phone. Where the sound of it ringing stirs up a genuine frustration and stress within me. I can’t stand the sound of a ringing phone.
As I’ve said before I am extremely introverted, but like always when I’m writing about this stuff, I’m not attempting to find justifications and excuses for stuff, I just like to put bits of jigsaws together to explain what might be going on. I do this with the hope that we can better understand one another and ourselves within the context of this very extrovert-centred world, so that we can find ways to adapt and regulate how we approach the phone if we struggle with it.
These are some of things I think I dislike about it:
1. The Phone is an Intrusive Disruption
It is an external presence that breaks into both the physical space and more abstractly the place in which the mind finds itself.
I am never doing nothing. Even if I’m doing ‘nothing in particular’, that is something. Even if I’m just thinking, and if I wasn’t expecting a call then it comes as an interruption. I find it very hard to step out of where I am and into a conversation with someone I can’t perceive contextually. When you can’t see someone you can’t anticipate the situation.
The internal question is always, ‘oh why are they phoning? What do they want?’ and if I feel interrupted I am not in an appropriate place to make decisions or respond to requests. A voicemail or text message explaining the why is the best.
If no message is left I generally don’t feel a compulsion to return the call.
2. Don’t Expect an Answer
You are expected to answer – something I hate about the world today is you’re expected to be on call all the time. We carry phones around with us, so being ‘out’ is no longer a valid reason not to answer, or at least respond within a couple of hours. There has somehow become this expectation that if your phone rings you should answer it and that it’s rude not to. Where did this come from? In my opinion it’s ruder to expect an answer than it is not to give one.
No one is entitled to your time, or to speak to you whenever it’s convenient for THEM.
I try hard not to be a hypocrite on this one, and it’s difficult because often the people who get most annoyed with those who don’t respond are themselves just as bad, if not worse.
3. Being ‘free’ is not an undeserved luxury
A call is either going to require me to make a decision or it’s going to want me to engage for a longer chat (see next point). The worst question to provide a quick response to is something along the lines of ‘are you free on Thursday evening?’ or ‘What are you up to later?’ This goes for messages too. You need to be specific. Give context to your question. This is not just a problem with the phone, but the phone creates a situation where you have to respond quickly, and from a corner.
Tell me what it is you want to fill my Thursday with. I’m never ‘free’ – I always have plans.
As I said in the first point those plans might be to sit at home and watch a film. But no one is ever ‘free’, just floating about in nothingness waiting for someone to rescue them from the barbarous torment of freedom. We all need to respect that fact (this is an important distinction between extroverted and introverted attitudes towards down time – I am not sat around waiting for a better offer).
4. Let’s Pre-Arrange
When it comes to phone calls with close friends and relatives that I know might go on for some time, I like to pre-arrange a window in which one of us will call. That way I can get myself into the right head space, and physical space so that I can speak without interruption. I enjoy catching up with people.
I like to pace about, and find little things to occupy me when I’m on the phone. Connecting with someone not in the same environment requires a lot of extra abstract sensory input. Keeping focused on the conversation requires a huge amount of force. I usually end up doing simple tasks that I can do without thinking too much so that I can stay focused. I never stay seated. I might clean the kitchen, tidy up the living room, pile up the post, make a coffee.
I often find myself doing these things unconsciously. But it helps keep the restless part of my head busy. If talking to someone is not my sole focus then it’s a lot easier. This is equally true in face to face encounters. When there is a common task or point to focus on (watching something, building something etc), then the emphasis on chatter is diminished, although silences go down less well on the phone.
5. I’m Either With Others or Recovering from Being With Others
If I’m with other people I don’t answer the phone, unless WE are expecting a call, or I know it’s something very important. I can’t be in a place with someone AND speak to someone else who is not there at the same time. It’s too hard. And I can’t stand people being able to hear me on the phone. I like to shut myself away.
Even if I’m not with others my mind is always busy and focusing on things in my immediate external environment, or abstract areas of my head. If I’m with others I wont answer, and if I’m alone chances are I’m deep into something or recovering from being with others.
So there you have it, a few reasons after a spot of experiential research and self-analysis as to why I hate the phone so much. They are not conscious decisions, I’ve never really thought about it too much before actually. So thanks for listening. I feel much better about it now. Remember, if people make you feel guilty for screening calls or being hard to reach, it’s fine.
Tell them ‘it’s not you, but it’s ALSO not me. It’s that stupid phone, leave me a message and I’ll get back to you when I can’. Work out ways to communicate that are best for you. I find email and text messages work best. There are only a few things are so pressing that they need a phone call. And if you’re someone who doesn’t understand the mindset I’ve laid out here please try. It’s not a choice, it’s a genuine and legitimate response. If you don’t get through first time, don’t keep calling, just leave a message and carry on about your day.