In Personal and Professional Interactions
In her article published in the New York Times. “Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You,” Pamela Paul examines the widespread acceptance of electronic communication over telephone calling. In fact, she illustrates with vivid examples how phone calling has come to be viewed as annoying and intrusive. Indeed, interpersonal communication has undergone fundamental changes from the time the telephone became part of everyday life in the late nineteenth century up to the advent of smartphones and social media in the twenty-first century. The rapid pace of life most people live today has favored electronic communication, e.g., text messaging, and e-mail over telephone calling and face-to-face communication. In fact, she points to a decline in telephone calling by adults and teen agers in general. People today prefer e-mail or Facebook messages because they wait patiently until they can be answered. Electronic communication has broken the barriers of space and time, allowing more flexibility to reach out to people regardless of distance. Nevertheless, it is in everyone’s interest to maintain a healthy balance between electronic and more personal forms of communication such as telephone calling in order to profit the most from all the options available today.
Pamela Paul points to the lack of comfort with traditional interpersonal communication to the point where calling people on the phone has become downright rude. She quotes an interior designer, Jonathan Adler, saying that when he was growing up, the rule was not to call anyone after 10:00 p.m., but now, the rule is “don’t call anyone, ever” (qtd in Paul). She observes that telephone calling has been somewhat subdued by the invention of voice mail and caller ID. Still, she adds that it is as if the telephone caller insists that people must drop whatever they are doing to listen to the person on the other side of the line. Receiving calls on the cellphone can be particularly annoying because callers assume that the person they are trying to reach is carrying the phone at all times, ignoring the fact that the person might be using it to answer e-mails or sending an important text message. The author even points to the fact that phone call appointments have become common in the workplace. Without them, she says, there is no guarantee that your call will be returned. Because adults have significantly reduced their use of the telephone, a telephone call may be seen as dreadful, as an omen of bad news.
Besides the discomfort with telephone calling another reason for the increasing reliance on electronic communication according to the author, is the prevailing working environment brought about by a combination of technological innovations and important economic changes. Many clerical workers whose responsibility was to handle their boss’s telephone calls and personal contacts, lost their jobs as upper level management began to manage their contacts directly through e-mail and personal computer. Furthermore, the lack of privacy in today’s open-door cubicles discourages telephone conversations for privacy’s sake.
But for all the irritation and discomfort telephone calls may cause, people can also feel isolated in the silence of their homes, rarely receiving a telephone call. It is the author’s experience as well as the experience of other professionals she quotes in her article, that the few persons who still call them are immediate family members. These calls are answered with much less reluctance than those coming from field professionals or from less close personal connections. These telephone exchanges are even welcomed as in the case of the interior designer Jonathan Adler mentioned before, who calls his mother on the way to work because “she would be happy to chitty chat” (qtd in Paul). Why do people find comfort in contacting close family members by phone? Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that they do not feel threatened and compelled to make decisions they are not ready to make. In addition, when discussing parenting issues, it is just easier to talk instead of trying to formulate complex thoughts in e-mail messages. The article makes it clear that it is mostly older family members such as parents who still prefer the telephone over electronic communication. Belonging to an older generation, these people may find texting and e-mail alien and difficult to use. They still cling to the human voice which is “warmer and more honest” (qtd in Paul).
It is not very helpful to try to establish the superiority of electronic communication over more direct personal communication such as telephone calling. Both have their place in contemporary society. It is only a matter of matching the most appropriate communication mode to the nature of the message people want to get across. It might be highly inappropriate, for example, to express condolences via Facebook. On the other hand, a telephone call or even a hand written note might be just the perfect way to express sympathy for a friend or relative. In contrast, a quick e-mail to clarify an issue might be faster and less costly than a long distance telephone call. Practice with each of these methods might help release the tension resulting from using the less familiar methods. Young people could practice telephone calling and person-to person communication while older people could practice text messaging. Each generation could meet each other half way to achieve authentic an honest communication Only a healthy balance of the available communication options can succeed in helping people successfully reach out to others.
Pamela Paul, “Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You,” The New York Times.com, (March 18, 2011). March 23, 2014, <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/20/fashion/20Cultural.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>
Paul, Pamela. “Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You,” The New York Times.com, March 18, 2011. March 23, 2014, <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/20/fashion/20Cultural.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>