Phone Friends: Headed Toward Extinction?

03/23/2011 08:26 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011


Be honest. Do you cringe when the phone rings? Check Caller ID and get annoyed when someone, even your BFF, calls when you're in the middle of something? Prefer talking when you want to rather than when she wants to? Do you send a quick text or email with the hopes of avoiding a lengthy phone conversation?

If these tendencies sound familiar, you're not alone, according to an article in Friday's New York Times by Pamela Paul, "Don't Call Me, I'll Call You." Aided and abetted by new technologies, phone calls and phone friends are becoming a dying breed. More people are switching to text messaging, which is less intrusive and less time-consuming. When phone calls do take place, they're more likely to be scheduled in advance, at a mutually agreeable time.

Paul writes:

Whereas people once received and made calls with friends on a regular basis, we now coordinate such events via e-mail or text. When college roommates used to call (at least two reunions ago), I would welcome their vaguely familiar voices. Now, were one of them to call on a Tuesday evening, my first reaction would be alarm. Phone calls from anyone other than immediate family tend to signal bad news.

Her description of the sea change in communications between friends and relatives resonates with my own experience. About a year ago, my son told me that the only people he speaks to by phone are his parents (us) and the cable company. At the time it was a revelation that I attributed to Generation Y behavior, but his remarks were prescient. Since then I've witnessed a gradual shift in my own communication patterns with friends. While there are generational differences in the use of technology and social media, with younger people being more anti-phone than older people, personality factors also influence an individual's preferred style of communication.

Some of my friends are old school, calling regularly (usually during dinner or when I'm deep into writing) and leaving lengthy voicemail messages when I don't answer. Do they realize it might be silly to leave a voicemail message asking me to call back when the missed call message on my cell phone would have done the trick?

Other friends have made the shift cold-turkey: limiting phone calls to when the conversation is too long or complex to be conducted over email -- or when they're prohibited from texting because they're operating a moving vehicle. Yet sometimes I miss hearing the sound of their voices or having spontaneous conversations that leave me laughing out loud while I'm relaxed on a couch in the family room.

Also, I've been meaning to mention how frustrating it is to stay connected with friends who are totally off-grid, never reading email or opening text messages. Admittedly, I'm totally digitally addicted. But a case in point: I can't even send them Pamela Paul's article because I know they'll never even open the message.