Why people are picking up their calls again

There’s this interesting statistic that came out in 2009 about the introduction of the smartphone and its direct correlation to the decline in the amount of phone calls being made in the United States.

It goes to state that there’s an apparent distaste amongst Millennials, the generation that was born between 1981–1996, to the act of picking up a phone call — especially one that’s unannounced. There’s a preference for SMS (short message service) and/or chat applications like Facebook and WhatsApp, as if the physical act of talking to someone over the phone held more weight.

The article goes on to detail that Americans sent out well over 110 billion text messages in December 2007, parallel to a decline in the length of the average phone call.

It’s almost as if live conversations became a burden.

General sentiments from the period center around phone fatigue, and how generally intrusive a phone call can be. As time went on, the only reason people actually picked up their phones to call someone was to order something or complain about it. The phone call, in all its glory, is on a decline.

What’s scary here is that 2007 was but the advent to the digital revolution that would eventually take the world by storm. The same year the first iPhone was introduced. As of this writing, we’re at the half-life of the iPhone 13 and design schematics of the iPhone 14 are already starting to leak. Everyone and their mom is on Facebook, and Messenger has taken on a life of its own (in the form of a dedicated application).

It’s a new age. But change, as they say, is always coming.

A return to form

There’s no real upside to the pandemic, but what did come out of this dark period in modern history is the growing strain of yearning; people realizing that there’s more to life than just jobs and the daily grind of living. People were starting to reach out to loved ones more and more. But given that we were all physically restricted given the threat of contagion, we all collectively started reaching for something that we haven’t in a long time: telephones.

A report from Verizon says that an “ average of 800 million wireless calls a day during the week, more than double the number made on Mother’s Day, historically one of the busiest call days of the year. Verizon added that the length of voice calls was up 33 percent from an average day before the outbreak.”

There are other things that could have contributed to that rise. There’s the fact that companies tried to cope with the pandemic by allowing their employees to work from home. In the same report, it said that “AT&T said that the number of cellular calls had risen 35 percent and that Wi-Fi-based calls had nearly doubled from averages in normal times.”

It’s safe to say that modern companies rely on the internet and the powers of VOIP (voice over internet protocol) to make and receive calls. Aside from it becoming the default that employees relied on for team meetings, Zoom became a household name as it provided an easier method to live stream significant commercial and personal events like graduations, weddings, and even burials.

Why is this a good thing?

Shorthand communication

Where modern messaging fails is in its apparent coldness to the way messages are relayed through the medium of text. Shorthand messaging is, as the name suggests, supposed to be short. In its infancy, text messaging only allowed up to 160 characters per text. This limitation led to people making do with saying less, and the rise of the text abbreviation.

As character limits grew and eventually disappeared, the issue became not one of restriction but one of context. The more people got used to the idea of using smartphones and computers as mediums for communication, the farther we got from the human element of it all. Tone of voice in communication just couldn’t be conveyed in the context of a written message.

In a study conducted by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, they have found that Without the benefit of paralinguistic cues such as gesture, emphasis, and intonation, it can be difficult to convey emotion and tone over electronic mail (e-mail).

Though the study centered around email, it translates just as well to text messaging and chatting over WhatsApp and similar messaging platforms. Companies like Apple and Facebook have tried to remedy that with the addition of humanizing elements like the emoji, and people latched on to them like nothing.

Where there are some things missing is in the ability to communicate body language, an integral element to the whole endeavor of connection. Some messages are just better said with facial expressions. Some emotions like anger, fear, and even love are just conveyed better and carry more weight when it is actually said than when it is written.

There are more issues there that are just as difficult to bridge in the advent of the digital age. One consists entirely of the wasted potential of connections being cut short.

People make deep bonds when they feel seen and valued, which is a real difficulty when making superficial chatter over text or chat. Maybe this changes over the course of a long period, but the thing is that most of these interactions don’t go past the initial stages. They aren’t even given the chance to bloom.

There are better ways to communicate, and though live chat and similar mediums have the benefit of immediacy (and the opposite, if that’s more your liking) a lot of things are lost in translation — in this case, they’re the things that matter: that would be emotion, sincerity, and significance.

Why calling is better

In our reach for human connection we’ve developed technologies that were meant to be easier and more approachable. For the most part, we’ve achieved this.. but at what cost? And more importantly, how have these technologies fared in terms of usage in recent years?

According to this survey from the Pew Research Center conducted between April 12–18, 2021, 81% of those surveyed have used some sort of internet calling since the onset of the pandemic. This is huge, but not entirely unprecedented.

With most people stuck at home or working from home, they have reverted to using calling services like Zoom, Skype, or Facebook Messenger. These services are readily available, easy to install, and (for the most part) free. Almost any smartphone in the market today is capable of running them.

Though it’s easy to credit this spike as being work-related (and therefore invalid), one cannot deny that actually speaking to somebody gets the job — and the message across — easier.

And there’s the fact that a text just doesn’t feel as sincere as a phone call. According to this study from the University of Texas, “ People feel significantly more connected through voice-based media, but they have these fears about awkwardness that are pushing them towards text-based media.”

“Voice is the new killer app,” Mr. Sambar said. “It’s been a real surprise.”

Are we saying goodbye anytime soon?

With no real endpoint in sight for the pandemic, it would be safe to assume that the current work-from-home model is here to stay. This could also mean that phone calling (whether it be through the internet or through our cell phones) will remain an ever-present and ever-increasing part of our everyday lives.

This is also true not just on a consumer level, but on a commercial level as well. With cloud calling becoming a more reliable option for businesses to run their everyday operations, expect that people would be on their phones now more than ever.

Who are you calling today?

Red Ramos
josealberto.lacsonramos@gmail.com
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