Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


The nuisance of availability

When did the PHONE become such a nuisance?

I’m taking a friend to the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on Monday night and needed to confer with her re their COVID policy and other arrangements. So, of course, I texted her.

Then she texted back.

Then I texted her again.

Then she texted.

As this went on, it struck me that I could CALL her. So I did. Many rings later, she finally picked up.

“When did it happen,” I asked, “that we all agreed that we HATE THE PHONE? Remember back in the 1980s? We all would’ve killed for a phone! We were always looking for phones — especially pay phones — and trying to coordinate around calling each other! Now that we have a phone readily available at all times, nobody wants to use them for phone calls!”

We agreed that it’s a nuisance when someone calls us. I hate being called. And not just when my phone clearly marks something as SPAM. Even when it’s a friend! I’ll see the friend’s name come up (as it did with my friend M— the other day) and I’ll hear myself sigh audibly. “Oh, God, there’s M—….” Even though M— is one of my closest and dearest friends!

Is it because the smartphone has fooled us into thinking that we can master our own communication decisions? (Even though, clearly, it controls us?) And so getting “interrupted” by someone else’s need is irritating?

I remember back when we used to just call each other, in this way: “Hey, I need to find something out from S—. I’ll call him.” Now, I find that S— will text me, or I will text him, to see if the other might be up for a phone call. That’s right, we seek permission first.

At the physical office of my company, I practically jump when I hear the phone ring. That’s because it rings maybe once or twice a day… and we’re busy. The sound of a ringing phone is so rare that it’s unexpected. And it’s not like it should be ringing more often; it’s just that everyone emails us, or messages us on social, or we’re talking on Zoom or Skype, or the person texts us.

Is this phenomenon — hatred of the phone for actual phone calls — akin to the hatred of writing by hand? My handwriting is lousy (my very best handwriting was recently registered as indecipherable by close relatives), and writing by hand is slow and tedious compared to my keyboarding capabilities.

Which, by the way, is another reason I prefer to text: I can type a response quickly and PASTE IT right into a text bar.

What will be the next innovation, the one that leaves texting in the dust? Holograms? Or, heaven forfend, all of us connected in a neural net where we’re never left to our own thoughts? At the least for now the phones can still be turned off.

One Response to “The nuisance of availability”

  1. Dan Says:

    I remember reading something in the 1960s about aliens observing us from outer space and concluding that we worshipped the telephone. The author cited our tendency to rush to the phone when it called, line up to bow or heads at public booths, etc.

    And does anyone out there remember THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST?

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