I have always loved the phone.
My love affair started as a child, before the smart phone was invented, actually, before mobile phones were particularly common for that matter. I would obsess over the home phone; learning every number I could so that when the time came to make a call, I would be the one to press the buttons. I’d watch my mum in her office, twirling the cord round her fingers as she talked absent-mindedly to some far off stranger and I’d marvel in sheer excitement of it all. Nothing, and I really do mean nothing, would give me more joy than arriving at a hotel and seeing that there was a phone by the bed.
I was obsessed with keyboards, too. At every given opportunity I would sneak onto my dad’s computer (a laptop, although heavy enough that regular laps would have been crushed by it) and type my brother’s name over and over again.
Ah yes, I was always smart about my devious behaviour. I thought what I was typing out in my secret tapping sessions might somehow be being recorded for my dad to find when he returned to work the next day; technology was new and I had no way of finding out without raising suspicions. I could take no risks and so by using Finlo’s name, I was ensuring that it wouldn’t be my prints on the murder weapon.
Looking back I worry that perhaps patriarchal undercurrents had somehow got to me in the womb and my obsession with all things ~office~ was preparing me for life as somebody’s secretary. It was either that or I somehow pre-empted social media and thought I might one day have a job on it; something that would see me spend more time on my phone and at a keyboard than most others. I guess we’ll never know.
But I liked the tapping. The buttons. The magic of it. The connection it gave you to the outside world. The idea that this would be the device that would represent my popularity. The grownup-ness of it all.
The phone, I think, was my first love.
I rang the police as a baby (who ever designed the landline, pray tell why the three buttons you absolutely shouldn’t press were the three most easily reached by tiny hands). I bought myself a cow print velcro phone holster from Hamley’s using my pocket money despite the fact it would be seven years before I’d ever get anything to fill it with (and by then I was way too cool to have velcro anything). I don’t think any subsequent excitements have matched the feelings I felt on the day I got my first mobile.
Despite the fact my contract only allowed 20 minutes of call time and 100 texts a month, I was glued to the thing. A Motorola Slvr (I was a little sad it wasn’t the Razor, the flip phone, since I rather fancied the finality of shutting the lid on a conversation, but that would come later after this little Slvr met an unfortunate but premature end in a watery grave), I set my ring tone as Hips Don’t Lie by Shakira and would wait, impatiently, to be called… and would make a huge effort to appear chilled when it did, as if it happened all the time (which it didn’t).
I think I was one of a only a handful of people that wasn’t thrilled when every phone began losing their keypads. I said goodbye to my Blackberry in 2012, as most of us did, and began my life as an Apple user (a fact that would go on to define every technological purchase I would ever make). I missed the buttons, the tapping that I had been obsessed with for such a long time. Thinking about it, this might be why I keep my nails so long; so as to create an onomatopoeic sound as I furiously thumb away at my screen.
By the time I left school I had a grownup phone, a reasonable amount of minutes allocated monthly and a desire to talk to everyone, all the time. Alas Mark Zuckerberg and his cronies had other ideas.
Truthfully, my phone never really got the chance to ring a lot, sadly.
By the time I eventually had reason to call people (because I hadn’t been at school with them all day), it wasn’t really the done thing anymore.
We’d got into the habit of instant messaging in the mid-naughties with MSN and things only progressed from there; Facebook Messenger, BBM to WhatsApp and iMessage so that now I’m hard pushed remembering the last time I hard the voices of some of the people I speak to the most. I added a few of my friend’s on the Boggle app recently and that has become our main source of communication.
And the older we got, the more hopelessly time poor we became; as students, we recoiled away from loud ringtones so as not to exacerbate the hangovers, and as workers, with no signal on the underground the only free time of you day was spent, not interacting, rather, blasting music into your ears whilst your face was nestled in some stranger’s armpit. With lunch breaks getting shorter as our work lives get busier and evenings being spent either out or in shared living spaces, the treasured act of chewing the fat with a pal was becoming something we scarcely had time for.
Weekends are jam-packed full as we strive to do all the living we feel we should be doing and the chances of catching someone who isn’t out for brunch or on their way into a gym class or in the pub is slim.
And you have to compound all of that with the fact that most of us don’t even really the need to get in touch with each other anymore. What is there to know, that we don’t already? The broken toe, new girlfriend, cat shelter visited, nan dying, allergy discovered, a new found love for boiled eggs and recent escapades with a broken tumble dryer? I know. I saw it. I liked it. I replied to the story. I lolled in the group. I’m with ya.
Time is a problem, but it’s nothing compared to the problems that have arisen with the now relative ease with which we can access each other’s lives.
In fact I spend so much time processing the information of all of my friends that by the time I find myself sitting on the sofa with a spare minute to call someone up; I am absolutely so jam-packed full of information about other people’s lives, that the last thing in the world I want to do is find out more.
So instead I carry on living my life in this odd limbo; balanced precariously between loneliness and saturation point.
But, still, I want my phone to ring.
This is in spite of the fact that there is nothing more anxiety inducing to me than a missed call from an unknown number (was it a fire department telling me the house has burned down? Someone who has found my dog dead on the side of the road? The hospital to tell my mum has been in an accident? The police looking for me in connection with a murder? An editor telling me that I’m terrible at my job and I should never contact them again?).
It is also in spite of the fact that more often than not the people calling me are automated robots trying to talk to me about an accident that wasn’t my fault, or a charity worked desperate to guilt trip me out of a lot of money that I don’t have.
It is in spite too, of the fact that I am normally feel a fleeting feeling of ‘oh fuck no’ whenever I hear it; how annoying, I’d think, to have to lose half an hour out of my day to talk to someone. I have a deadline and an email to send and stuff to plan and a fridge to clean and lunch to cook and showers to have and television to watch and… and… and.
Even though I seemingly know all that there is to know, and even though I am time poor and anxiety riddled and full to the brim of noise and information, I still want nothing more than for my phone to ring. Not least of all it signifies to me in a way that Instagram never can that the people in my life want to talk to me.
Back when phone calls were more commonplace, if one went unanswered, a voicemail was left. This is not the done thing by our generation (praise be to god…) and, aside from your mother of course, you’re unlikely ever to be left one. But as fewer voicemails are left, fewer calls are returned.
Call, leave a message, call me back,; that’s become unnecessary in the smartphone era. If you can’t answer, a simple “can’t talk all ok?” normally suffices and when the reply “yes just calling for a chat” comes in you expel the anxiety that mounted inside you as you waited and promptly do nothing. The exchange has been had. Shame it didn’t work this time. Try back next month.
Phone calls are not our priority anymore.
Mandatory calls to your dad every now and then aside, we are content, for the most part, filling our ears with the voices of strangers as they talk through topics and issues that once upon a time, you might have talked to your friends about.
We reason that, since we know the other is alive, and seemingly happy if their recent use of emojis is anything to go by, this constituents being a good enough friend in an age where the lines of what it means to be one, have become blurred.
Talking on the phone will always come second to seeing each other in real life; people have been saying this since the things were first invented. But I think, rather dangerously, we are now falling into the trap of believing that seeing someone online is somehow equal to what seeing someone in the flesh once was and so again the phone becomes second fiddle; only this time, to the wrong thing.
I think we’re pretty lonely, in lots of ways.
And it’s not the conventional loneliness that we were first told of as kids; I’m, for example, not without people to contact. On the contrary, my life is full of contact. Arguably, I have way too much contact. No, I’m not lonely in the conventional sense of the word.
What I am, what a lot of us are, actually, is depraved of human contact and interaction. Of the real life conversations that human beings are reliant on.
Mostly though, I feel robbed of all the things I thought the phone would bring me, that it hasn’t. It has provided me with gifts a plentiful in lots of areas; an inbuilt calculator, for example, is a godsend. But in other departments… I’ve been left wanting.
With most of us spending huge proportions of the day with our phone never more than a foot away from us, the fact that we can go days without using it for forming a meaningful connection is bloody depressing.
So please, the next time someone calls you, please, pick up your phone.
Even if only to tell them that you can’t talk, and that you’ll call them back.