I have never been fond of telephones. In fact, talking on the phone is generally a near-traumatic experience. Why? I couldn't say. Why does anyone develop a particular phobia? My former mother-in-law was terrified of heights and she passed this on to her son who passed it on to his daughter. Thus, one could argue in favor of a genetic predisposition or, on the other hand, one could argue that it is an environmentally-instilled fear.
I suspect I inherited my phone-o-phobia from my mother. Since she was all about self-discipline and pulling oneself up by one's boot straps, she refused to succumb to fears. She did tell me though, in a rare confessional moment, that as a young woman, she used to sit by the phone and cry before summoning the courage to make a call. Her own vulnerability did not prevent her, however, from dragging me out from under my bed for an obligatory over-the-phone chat with Great Aunt Ruthie.
Later, the invention of answering machines made the prospect of talking over a wire somewhat less traumatic. If the caller was someone with whom you actually wanted to communicate, you could pick up the phone the minute you heard their voice. If it was someone you wished to avoid, you could elude them indefinitely.
Then along came cell phones: compact, colorful, with an infinite variety of ring tones and games to play when you weren't busy chatting. You could even use the camera function to prove that the peace officer apprehending the boy in the hoodie really was using unnecessary force.
One's cell phone is almost a part of one's anatomy though, on occasion, it disengages itself and you have to use your land line (or someone else's cell) to discover its hiding place.
In addition to voice mail, cell phones have caller ID which is an anxiety-reducing function similar to the answering machine.
Is the cell phone a true antidote to phone-o-phobia? Not quite. You still have to call people back and what if you don't know them at all, or at least not very well? Then you are certain to stammer and blunder and blab and generally present yourself as a linguistically-challenged nincompoop.
The only way to seem eloquent is to text. Texting gives you time to think before blurting things out you immediately want to take back. Perhaps this is why teenagers like it so much. The recipient of the text can't hear the pernicious squeak of your changing adolescent voice, the intermittent lovesick gulp, the unintended hiccup or the persistent stammer of embarrassment. I am not afraid of texting at all and I wish everyone would do it. The thing is most people my age don't like it. In fact, most people who are elderly or in late middle age are downright scornful of the process. Clearly these are people who do not suffer from phone-o-phobia.
Back to caller ID. I read recently that it is possible to fake it -- i.e., pretend that you are someone you're not. This gives me pause for thought. What if the announced caller is not my good friend but rather someone lurking behind my friend's name who wishes me ill? Am I vulnerable now to verbal assassination by an impostor?
Although the occasions when I have misplaced my cell phone have been cause for panic, there is a part of me that wishes I could be phone-free forever. For the rest of my life. That I could venture out into the wide world and nobody would be able to contact me. Being permanently attached to my cell phone makes me feel a little bit like a marionette. On the other hand, I've gotten used to having my strings pulled, and I suppose, in a sense, we are all each other's puppets.
|not quite a self-portrait|