Explaining why you hate talking to people on the phone

You could have telephoniphobia


Fear comes in many different guises. Fear of seeing your ex at a party. Fear of wasps. Fear when you’re hungover and you’re wondering what you said, who you said it to and whether or not what you said has the potential to ruin your life. Fear of answering the door in your underwear to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

But of all the fears stalking us today, the most relevant to every day existence, and the one which seems to be shared by the most people, is talking on the telephone. Why do we hate chatting on the phone so much? Most people I know would rather Facebook message or text or Skype or facetime or tweet or WhatsApp then have to take a phone call. The only thing they’d hate more is sending a letter.

She'd probably rather send a letter

She’d probably rather send a letter

It’s easy to speculate and get all pop psychological about this phenomenon. Phone calls come with baggage. There’s the relentless “How are you?” bullshit courtesies at the beginning of them and the interminable long goodbye at the end:

“Well, bye then.”

“Catch you later.”

“Great chatting to you.”

“Yeah good to hear from you mate.”

“And you. Take care now.”

“You take care as well.”

“Goodbye!”

“I’m hanging up now man.

“Me too!”

You don’t have to go through this on Facebook messenger. Without all the physical ticks and visual clues of normal human being to human being interaction, without nodding, without eye rolling and shoulder slapping, taking phone calls becomes layered with anxiety.

Ian Bogost is a media scholar who writes articles with names like “Don’t Hate the Phone Call, Hate the Phone” for The Atlantic. He explains how the design of new phones has made phone calls worse:

Today, of course, we can and do carry our phones with us everywhere. And when we try to use them, we’re far more likely to be situated in an environment that is not compatible with the voice band—coffee shops, restaurants, city streets, and so forth. Background noise tends to be low-frequency, and, when it’s present, the higher frequencies that Monson showed are more important than we thought in any circumstance become particularly important. But because digital sampling makes those frequencies unavailable, we tend not to be able to hear clearly. Add digital signal loss from low or wavering wireless signals, and the situation gets even worse. Not only are phone calls unstable, but even when they connect and stay connected in a technical sense, you still can’t hear well enough to feel connected in a social one. By their very nature, mobile phones make telephony seem unreliable.

According to Bogost it’s not your fault that you don’t like making phone calls, and it has very little to do with anxiety:

Telephone calls haven’t declined because we have become anxious or lazy. They’ve fallen out of favor because using the telephone feels mechanically ungainly as much as socially so. That icon on your phone app isn’t just an icon for a function, it turns out. It’s also an icon for a complex of feelings and sensations, all of which once added up to the tingly-anticipation of connecting your body to someone else’s through a molded plastic housing over a copper wire.

But I’m not sure about Bogost’s explanations here. Surely the issue isn’t background noise. If anything people prefer making phone calls in a noisy place than somewhere quiet where everyone can snoop on their conversation. In a world where almost all conversation is text based, where you’re the writer editing everything you say until it’s says exactly you want it to say – phone calls, with their umming and ahhing, their hemming and hawing, have become a mumbly, awkward embarrassment.