6 May 2021

Text Before You Call?

Is it really necessary to text ahead to arrange a phone call?  Nearly all of us carry around mobile phones, packing a wealth of processing power in our pockets. But the simplest function of all – making a phone call – has now become a bit of a minefield.

Members of the older generation, who perhaps grew up with a ‘telephone table’ in the hall on which a large phone squatted like a household deity, will probably find this a vexed question. They were trained to respond instantly to its insistent ringing and, in the days before answering machines, a phone call was an all or nothing affair.

But increasingly, and especially amongst younger, more habitual mobile phone users, it is considered rude and intrusive to pick up the phone and simply make a phone call.  Instead, it is customary to send a text message first, asking when it would be appropriate to call.   This cautious approach makes the phoning procedure highly premeditated, when once it was an impromptu gesture.

As people become more stressed and life’s pressures take their toll, it seems that they feel increasingly persecuted by the jarring ring of the phone. An unplanned phone call may be an announcement of bad news, or simply an invasion of peace and privacy, which will send anxiety levels spiking. For many people, it is a basic act of politeness to ensure that friends are forewarned of phone calls and given the chance to consent to receive them.

Some people will resist this circumspect approach; after all, most mobile phones display the caller’s details, so it is easy enough to vet incoming calls and perhaps call back at a more convenient time. But for the more sensitive amongst us, even a ‘missed call’ message may feel invasive.

It is certainly true that phone calls are much more likely to be ‘arranged’ in the current lockdown.  We’re all suffering from a paucity of social contact and therefore phone calls are a real lifeline. People are increasingly scheduling calls, which allows them to dispense with potential distractions, and perhaps settle down to enjoy a long chat with a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

Even when life returns to normal, it is likely that the new, tentative phone etiquette is here to stay. We may have lost the spontaneity of the spur-of-the-moment phone call, but we have learned to respect, and value, each other’s time.

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