This isn’t something I’m particularly proud to admit, but nothing puts the fear of God in me more than when my mobile phone rings. It doesn’t have to be a number I don’t recognise, or even a private number. Even when the name appearing on my screen is my mother or my sister my immediate reaction is panic, and I automatically assume that something awful has happened. If they were just ringing for a chat or to ask a simple question, why on earth are they calling instead of texting, or messaging me on one of the multiple social media platforms I have clogging up my phone’s memory?
It’s a strong giveaway of my age that sheer terror is my reaction to someone calling me. I grew up with texting as a very common and acceptable form of communication. It was how I made plans with my friends, thanked relatives for birthday cards, demanded lifts from my parents and argued with my siblings. Most social media platforms offer an instant messaging feature, and most people tend to use most of them simultaneously – WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Viber, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat are all apps that I use or have used all at once to communicate with people, not to mention traditional texting and emailing.
It is perhaps fair to suggest that this millennial-focused aversion to phone calls is a concern. Written communication is rife with issues, one of them being the difficulty with picking up on tone, or sincerity. Speaking to someone on the phone or in person generally demands an immediate response whereas texts and emails can conveniently be ignored for a prolonged period. In a professional context, it can be tricky to decipher how informal it’s safe to be with a colleague or client over email but speaking on the phone with someone usually informs you quickly whether they will chuckle at your joke. It’s also much easier to get an idea of how confident, articulate or warm a person is from a verbal conversation, as written messages can be drafted and redrafted multiple times before they’re sent.
Maybe it’s also worth considering that there are advantages to communicating via emails or texts. The use of abbreviations when writing messages became extremely common when texting first became popular, as pressing one of the buttons on a phone’s keypad multiple times to generate one letter was laborious and time consuming – it was simply much easier to write ‘u’ instead of ‘you’. However most mobile phones nowadays are touchscreen and the full computer keyboard is at your fingertips. Yet I continue to see people of a slightly older generation writing in abbreviations despite there being no real time saving (I figure it’s because they have only just caught up to the nuances of texting – if I can read a hundred articles criticising millennials every week then I have every right to write one criticising older generations 😉). My point is that millennials, teenagers and even children tend not to write in such a manner, and in my opinion, are quite articulate in their written communication (subject matter aside). It’s not outrageous to suggest that if a person can better present their thoughts, opinions and advice in a written rather than verbal message than who are we to criticise? Time are changing, and we are better off changing with them instead of being left behind.
Working in recruitment, I make lots of phone calls every day to potential candidates, and often the phone goes unanswered. I usually put this down to people being at work and understandably unable to take a call, but I recently saw something online that made me think there are other reasons why it’s unusual to get through to people on the first attempt. I saw a person post a tweet in which they expressed their amazement that people are making phone calls without prewarning “in this mental health epidemic”. Someone replied to the tweet asking what if it was a recruiter calling about a job opportunity, and the original tweeter insisted they would rather be penniless than answer a phone call. This was all in quite a tongue-in-cheek manner, but there was an element of honesty in it.
I never thought about the possibility that people who struggle with anxiety deliberately ignore phone calls, whether it be to find out who was calling from a voicemail or follow-up email to then prepare for calling back, or simply from a paralysing fear of speaking on the phone to a stranger. Anxiety can be a truly debilitating thing and maybe the preference for communicating via email or text that seems to be emerging in younger people is associated with our growing awareness of mental health issues such as social anxiety. However, I do believe it would be remiss not to acknowledge the role of technology in people’s reluctance to speak on the phone – even though if there’s one thing I hate more than articles about millennials it’s articles about how awful technology is.