Chris van Schaick: modern day phone manners

PUBLISHED: 13:28 24 November 2015 | UPDATED: 13:28 24 November 2015

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto


Chris ponders the rapid decline of the phone call and how email has replaced all communication with strangers

I realised something had changed when a business contact actually rang me. On the phone. You know, old style – picked up the handset, dialled my number, said hello and began to talk. It was a man I’d met a few days earlier and I had a supplementary question which I’d e-mailed him about.

When he came back to me he said he’d “chanced his arm” and decided to phone me instead of e-mailing back. As if it was really rock ’n’ roll to call somebody you don’t quite know and speak to them.

But in 2015 it is. The phone is no longer a device for strangers or mere acquaintances to use for speaking. We have the numbers of work and domestic trusties programmed into our iPhones or Samsungs. Those are the people we actually talk to. When anyone else tries to barge in, it’s begun to feel a bit stalker-ish.

It’s the e-mail isn’t it? That’s become the main conduit now, along with text and social media. I even find myself in e-mail exchanges to “book a call”. Moreover, the phone calls from trusties now often begin with the hesitant enquiry “are you free to talk?” The tentativeness suggests I might either be in the middle of cooking a flambé dish or ten feet up a ladder painting a mural, even though I have answered the phone.

A friend of mine is responsible for a radio newsroom and employs sparky graduates to work as journalists in her team. But one of the first pieces of training she gives them is how to talk to strangers on a landline. After uni and years of phoning, texting or WhatsApping people who they already have as contacts, it can be a terrible shock for members of Generation Y to actually ring up and talk to a stranger.

We do ourselves a different sort of office injury now. We used to do in our necks cradling old phone receivers in our necks between ear and shoulder. Now we ruin our spines leaning over screens. It’s all added an extra line to father and son “you don’t know you’re born” conversations. My lad grew up in an era when teenagers already all had mobiles. So to fix up a date, he just needed to get the girl’s number and phone her. Back in the ’70s, sweaty teenage me and millions of others had to call the target’s home landline and negotiate our way past gruff, grumpy and suspicious Dad before we could fix the assignation.

So there we are. There’s no turning the clock back now. But change in habit creates a market for nostalgia. I think the people who sell phone numbers have missed a trick. Just as I have a yearning for a half-timbered Morris Minor, there’s part me that would love to have a three digit phone number – like in Miss Marple. Wouldn’t it be a great adornment to Meon Valley life if, as I grow old and quavery, I could answer the phone 1940s style: “Droxford 319, van Schaick speaking”. 


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