A month or so ago, a friend of mine asked if I could do a favor (helping point someone in the right direction for a job) for someone -- a relative of a friend of my friend, so this was pretty distant. There was an email introduction, and a request to talk by phone so I could learn a bit more about this person in order to actually help. I noted that I was busy over the next few days, but had some open time on a Thursday morning or Friday afternoon, expecting, as usually seems to happen in these cases, that they'd come back with some specific times. Instead, the person emailed "great, give me your phone number and I'll call when available." I found myself immediately uninterested. Something in the back of my brain said "if this person doesn't respect my time enough to actually set a specific time, but would prefer to just interrupt me at random, then I'm going to pass on helping here." I don't know if that's a rude response -- perhaps it is -- but it's what I felt. And it was at that point that I realized how rare it is that I'll accept or make unexpected or unplanned phone calls, with the exception of my wife and my parents (and potentially some work-related "emergency.") There are a few very close, long-term friends that I'll call every so often, but I really haven't done that in a while, and I feel a bit awkward about doing it these days. I still talk on the phone for meetings, but always at set times.
Apparently, I'm not the only person who feels this way. Many people are realizing that random phone calls are just not considered polite any more. They're somewhat interruptive and can be annoying. What strikes me as really interesting is that this isn't a case of just the "younger generation" feeling this way -- but it's actually true of many older people as well.
I find this interesting for any number of reasons, including how counterintuitive it may actually be. These days, people have phones with them at all times. In the past, when most people didn't have mobile phones, such random calls were more common. And you might assume that our greater access to telephony would mean greater desire to make calls. Now, obviously, a big part of the reason for making calls has been replaced by (mostly text-based) alternative means, such as email, text messaging and social networks. But, I'd argue that the greater access also makes us more wary in general. For example, I was thinking about calling a friend recently, who I hadn't spoken to in a while, but realized it would be his mobile phone, and what if he was out with his wife and kids, and I didn't want to interrupt that.
It's kind of an interesting phenomenon, which makes me wonder if the idea of personal voice calls was really just a temporary slice of time that is going entirely out of style. Perhaps there will be some sort of quaint revival, like the idea that people have of writing paper letters to each other these days as being more "personal," but the whole phenomenon of the random personal phone call is pretty much becoming a thing of the past.
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