Thursday, October 15, 2009

An epidemic of telephobia

Skype, tweets, blogs, emails, texts – we truly live in an astonishing age of communications capabilities. But why is it still so hard to communicate? Why are so many things still lost in translation?

Up until 2007, when I wanted to talk to my friends, I picked up the phone and called them. Then suddenly, I started getting text messages. They were a fun, quick way to shoot messages back and forth while we were in meetings or at concerts – places where it would have been impossible or inappropriate to talk. However, as I began dating younger women, I found they didn’t use the phone at all. Whether they were at home, at work, or driving in the car, they would always respond with a text.

I’ll admit, texting is addictive. You can weigh your words carefully or intentionally misspell things for comedy effect. Then again, texts can be dangerous because as with emails, the tone can easily be misinterpreted, completely changing praise to sarcasm or a joke to something hurtful. People tend to be more blunt in text because you don’t have to directly face the other person’s emotional response, and you can also easily lie about what it is you’re doing and who you’re with. Even so, I happily jumped into the world of texting and never looked back. Even my parents are now sending me texts.

When I got my first iPhone later that year, I thought it was an amazing device. My texting, my tweeting, my facebooking, my instant messaging, my emailing and my websurfing were all in the palm of my hand at all times. But I did notice something that bothered me a little even back then – my iPhone really sucked as a phone. In fact, it became a struggle to talk to my parents or long-distance friends because they could never hear me.

At work, we did much of our business through email, but when I needed information right away or something needed to be sorted out, it was always a phone call that got the job done. However, as I began working with some of our younger staff on various projects, I noticed they would never make the phone call. If an email went unanswered, they just left it unanswered, sitting on their hands as if there was nothing they could do. They were hesitant to even pick up the phone and “bother” me, which I found shocking because I consider myself a fairly friendly, non-intimidating figure at our company.

In the past year I’ve seen these scenarios played out time and time again. It seems that the majority of our population who are under 25 years old are scared to use the telephone. Somehow through the advancement of technology we’ve raised an entire generation with telephobia.

I had a friend searching for 8x10” black and white developer paper. She had the names of three stores scattered from Conroe to The Heights that carried the paper, but she’d heard one was offering a great deal where you got 15 free sheets if you bought a pack of 25. She was stupefied that the stores didn’t have web sites, and instead of just calling each store for prices, she spent hours driving across town to find the deal.

My own sister (I still love you) would rather delay ordering dinner until her husband comes home than have to call and order pizza.

Phone calls are not hard. Phone calls are how you do business. Phone calls are how you avoid mistakes.

I don’t know where everyone derives this anxiety, but apparently I’m not the only one noticing our society’s growing hesitation to use the phone. Both my favorite Porsche parts shop and my favorite camera shop have notices on their web sites saying something to the effect of, “If you need immediate service or have questions, please call our 1-800 number. There is a 24-48 hour delay on emails.”

I’ve called both numbers often and asked many questions. Never have I been berated or attacked by a salesperson. I’ve ordered pizza dozens if not hundreds of times, and while they have gotten my order wrong before, never has talking to a teenager in a Dominoes or a Pizza Hut somewhere rattled my nerves and shaken me to the core.

This growing epidemic of telephobia could have serious consequences on business and the economy in the next few years. I think it’s a problem that we’re actually going to have to address. Are we going to have to start adding telephone roleplaying to organizational development courses, so that our employees can pick up the phone to call each other without having a panic attack?

I’m relieved to say that my current iPhone 3Gs works much better as a telephone than the original iPhone did, and yes, I will call you.
Post a Comment