The phone call isn’t dead. Despite what many a journalist/blogger/paranoid internet commenter might have you believe, smartphones can indeed still dial out. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not in the process of dying. And if you have even a shred of decency about you, you’ll help take it out back Old-Yeller-style and put everyone out of their misery. Friends, it’s time to kill the phone call.
Setting the tone
Things weren’t always this way. Phone calls used to serve a necessary purpose: instant communication. Which totally overhauled the way the world worked back in 1844. 1844! That’s nearly two centuries’ worth of phone calls and a hell of a long time for a technical advancement to stay largely unchanged. But it’s understandable considering that cross-country conversations were simultaneously groundbreaking and fiercely simple.
Mobile phones, in particular, have taken strides towards making the world a better place; handlingmergency is one of the main reasons people buy cell phones today. But with texting, email, and ubiquitous smartphones for all, we’ve built a culture that’s wildly apprehensive about what was once a simple, innocuous phone call.
Texting is quicker, easier. More casual. Less likely to suck you into an hour long chat. The phone call, by comparison, feels ever-more serious. Menacing, even. We live in a world where we have to plan to make calls, not the other way around. If something is urgent enough to warrant a call, it’s more often that not going to be a Big Deal — an arguably bad Big Deal at that. A phone call I wasn’t expecting? Shit, who died?
For nearly every type of non-death-or-Apocalypse-relaying message, there is something, anything better than a phone call.
Texting, email, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Yo! — there have never been more ways to get in touch with another human being. Which is great, considering that phone calls are, to put it in technical terms, the worst. As Clive Thompson explained in Wired:
If I suddenly decide I want to dial you up, I have no way of knowing whether you’re busy, and you have no idea why I’m calling. We have to open Schrödinger’s box every time, having a conversation to figure out whether it’s OK to have a conversation. Plus, voice calls are emotionally high-bandwidth, which is why it’s so weirdly exhausting to be interrupted by one.
Pick up the phone, and your conversation is suddenly stripped of all the wonderful social nuance of face-to-face chats (the sly wink, the sheepish smile, the subtle masturbatory pantomime, etc) and packed with even more mundane, mind-numbing pleasantries to make up for it: Hello. How are you. Sorry, bad reception. What’s that? Come again? Oh, no that’s not me laughing — that’s one of the other 193,940 people in this public location. Sorry? Come again? Goodbye. In other words, it’s all the worst parts of talking, with none of the benefits.
That’s why more people are using their smartphones for sending emails than for making actual phone calls in recent years. Any of the dozens of forms of communication that have popped up since the phone call’s invention are more efficient in virtually every circumstance. Not to mention that better and better touchscreen keyboards like Swype and Swiftkey have made tapping out text on a tiny screen practically trivial. It makes Twitter, Facebook, email, Skype, text — all preferable to voice calls. Because Twitter and Facebook are social. Email and text are both quick and don’t require the other person’s presence. And Skype has facial expressions/nudity.
In situations where you actually do want to hear someone’s voice — long distance significant other, talking to your kids across the globe — you’re more than likely going to be doing so in a private place. That means that opening up a video chat is acceptable and you can have way less strained, far more convenient conversation.
And if you happen to be in public when the compulsion to share a fleeting, inane thought strikes, just whip out your phone, tip tap away, and that’s it. No need for bygone niceties — in the world of modern texting, conversation-like interfaces allow us to exist perpetually en media res. So when you see a nice-looking rainbow or hilarious fat guy in a tiny car, you can just snap a pic and send it to your friend without ever uttering a word. Just like god intended.
That lack of pressure makes a far less threatening sort of communication altogether. And that’s why these days, before calling someone, we almost always text or email ahead of time, Is it ok to call you right now? When can I give you a ring? Not only is it polite, it’s necessary. As Scott Adams wrote:
All phone calls have a victim, i.e. the person receiving the call. You’re ALWAYS in the middle of doing something else when someone calls to yack. The worst offenders are the people in cars who don’t have satellite radio, or books on tape, and they’re just calling to make their drive less boring.
…When I get a text alert, it always makes me happy, even before I read the message. When my phone rings, I think, Uh-oh, what fresh hell is this?
According to Nielsen, ever since phone calls reached their peak in 2007, they quickly declined before tapering off.
We’ve compacted our time spent on the horn into as short a timespan as possible, and now all that’s left is the phone call’s (hopefully) swift, imminent death.
Because just like books, newspapers, email, and the English language, talking on the phone has been declared dead at various points in time and with varying degrees of gleeful alarmism. Yet, somehow, it’s still managed to survive. As you can see from the charts above, phone calls are indeed kicking. They may be the kicks of death’s final throes, but it is a kick nonetheless. So show a little shred of humanity, and stop answering your phone. Stop calling people. Try to forget that button ever existed at all!
Clearly there will always be a need for the phone call functions to exist. You can’t stop in the middle of running away from a pack of murderous clowns in the woods to shoot your friends a text letting them know the end is nigh. You can, however, call them. Anything immediately time-sensitive will have to still be relegated to phone calls. But those instances are, thankfully, few and far between. And for everything else, you can avoid giving someone an unnecessary heart attack by sticking to text.
If only Alexander Graham Bell could see us now; we’ve turned his masterwork into a GIF-tweeting, Tinder-swiping, emoji-poop-spewing shell of its former self. And it’s a better world for it.
Art: Sam Woolley