Barbara Shelly

The phone conversation is endangered, so here’s the case for saving it

Yes, it is possible to find happiness in a phone conversation.
Yes, it is possible to find happiness in a phone conversation. Bigstock

My Christmas card bounty has shrunk so much the glad tidings barely fill their designated window sill.

And I have come to terms with the fact that, outside of the holiday season, I will probably never again check my mailbox and find a personal letter awaiting me.

No sense bemoaning the loss. Communications have revolutionized, gone digital, and that’s just the way it is. I can accept that there’s beauty to be found in a rapid-fire series of text messages.

But one mode of communication I refuse to let go of without a fight.

The telephone conversation.

It is endangered, you know. Make what used to be known, quaintly, as a “phone call” and chances are it will go to a voice mail on someone’s communication device. I’m not sure why we still call them cell phones, since the phone part is clearly passé.

Later, you might run into the person. Does this conversation sound familiar?

Hey, did you get my message?

No, did you text?

Um, I left a voice message.

Oh, I never check voice mail. Too much trouble. I’m not even sure I remember what to do.

I have wised up and rarely leave voice mails anymore, opting instead to send a text along the lines of, “Call me, please.” Which may or may not happen.

To a point, this makes sense. Phone calls are intrusive, arriving randomly to interrupt whatever it is you are doing. They are often inefficient. You may have to put up with three minutes of pleasantries and/or awkward silences to achieve the same purpose as a couple of quick text messages. Those are three minutes that could be much better spent watching cat videos or liking people’s posts on Facebook.

And why punch in a bunch of codes to listen to somebody hem and haw in a voice message when a quick email is so much tidier?

Besides, there is a rapidly expanding universe of platforms on which one can communicate. The ability to share your thoughts and experiences and check in on what other people are thinking and doing is right there in the palm of your hand. Who needs a phone?

But before we send the phone call the way of the telegram, I wish to make a couple of arguments in its defense.

First, it minimizes the possibilities for error.

When the Kansas City Royals were making their glorious World Series run, I arranged through a series of texts to watch the game with a friend and her husband. As the get-together was at my house, I whipped up a batch of fajitas. When our guests arrived, they eyed my sizzling spread with consternation.

Turned out they’d already eaten. No big deal, there is always room for an extra fajita or two. But if we had made the arrangements by phone, I think we would have avoided the confusion. There are times when a voice-to-voice conversation is just better, though we aren’t necessarily able to discern in advance what those times are.

Second, and more important, a phone call increases the chance for serendipity. Take time to chat with someone for a few minutes, and you’re likely at the very least to learn something you didn’t already know. You may even hear something remarkable.

That rarely happens with text messages, in my experience. Their parameters are narrow by nature.

Call me retro, but my resolution for the new year is to talk on the phone more often. Give me a call. I pick up.

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