Thursday, April 4, 2013

Reflections on the Telephone (including but not limited to Caller ID)

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.

When I was a child, telephones were hard black objects that squatted on a table or clung like bulky alien lifeforms to a wall.  Each one had a receiver and a dial that whirred and clicked. Their ring tones were generally ominous and loud. Who, in their right mind, would wish to respond to such a thing? I certainly didn't.

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.

Behind The Mask Stock Photography - Image: 19187902Back 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


  1. Loved your witty and well written post about phones, Bronwyn. I am so much like you in my aversion to phones. I don't even have a cell phone of my own, just one for the family to use for emergencies. Even then, I rarely use it unless I have to.

    Loved your account of how phones have changed over time. I have always suffered from phone phobia right from when I was an adolescent back in the 1970s. I hated having to make cold calls to strangers for anything at all and God forbid having to call about getting a job. *Knees shake at the thought*

    I still hate it but will do it when I have to. I'm so happy we have email and Facebook now. I would do all my correspondence that way but I do have some die hard friends who only use the phone so I'm stuck using it still. Sigh.

    Thanks for such a great post. It resonated with me as you can see by this long comment I wrote. :)P

    Cattitude and Gratitude

    1. Thanks for your comments. It's good to hear from a fellow phone-o-phobe. Email is also a more or less anxiety-free way to communicate but, like you, I have friends who are strongly attached to using the phone.

  2. Was this supposed to be your D post? Not sure... Anyway, it was a cool read. I don't own a mobile, and don't want to so I don't really have any use for caller ID :D As I also loathe text-spelling I guess this just isn't my world *chuckle*

    1. My D post? I guess I used the wrong comment thread. I envy you not owning a mobile. Since I have no land line, I'm more or less stuck with mine unless I want to incur the wrath of various people motivated to stay in touch with me.

  3. I remember those old kind of phones. Now I don't have a land line anymore, only a cell. Great post.


    1. Thanks, Kathy. I don't have a land line either so if I lose my cell phone I have to search under furniture and behind cushions rather than being guided in the direction of my ring tone.

  4. We can't escape the world as it is now. Cell phones, texting and social media via the internet. It's just the way. Why fight it! And yes, of course there are times when I would love to just go somewhere remote for a while with my family. No technology, no video games...would be interesting!

  5. I am probably your polar opposite. I love the phone, making phone calls, and I love talking on the phone. My mother said I knew everyone's phone number in the family by heart when I was just 3 years old. One day, I was sitting in the middle of her bed talking away on the phone in her room. She hung up the phone, just thinking I was talking to a dial tone or busy signal. It turns out when she got the bill, I had spoken to my great-grandmother for over an hour. The funny part is I was too young to recall the conversation and my great-grandma was too senile. You know that had to be an interesting conversation!! LOL.

    Now with cell phones, I miss the "talking" on the phone. It is all about texting now. I hate texting. I'd rather speak to someone, hear there voice, and listen to their soul.

    Lovely post!! Jenn


  6. I guess is the introvert/extrovert thing. Your three-year-old conversation with your senile grandmother is hilarious.