Phonophobia

Phone Call Telephone Handset Dial
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I was reading in the paper this morning about the fact that many millennial ‘Snowflakes’ are taking to an app for deaf people to speak on their behalf in telephone conversations. The tone of the article was subtly condescending, taking the line that anyone over the age of 25 has never had issues talking to people on the phone. I think this is, as ever, guff.

Until I was thirty I had a horrible fear of talking to people I didn’t know on the

phone, and I know quite a few people who also harbour similar reservations. Sometimes I still have to psych myself up for important phone calls. I would have loved the apps we have today and this particular app from Google when I was younger.

I’ve never really been able to rationalise why I found it hard, but the thought of ringing anyone, brought on minor panic attacks. I was once put on a cold-calling training course. I lasted an hour, such was my discomfort. I suspect it’s because audio-only calls are quite hard work and take up a lot of mental activity (one of the main reasons why talking on the phone while driving is banned).

The underlying argument in the story ran that because the youth of today are used to messaging via the written word, they are losing their ability to communicate. This is plain silly. By the time we’re old enough to have the technology to facilitate hiding behind apps, our communications skills are fairly well developed. But this is based on the full gamut of verbal and non-verbal communication. Speaking to people on the phone is difficult work as you have to work so much harder due to the lack of visual cues. It’s no wonder people find it hard and it fills them with trepidation.

I’m messing about at the moment trying to adapt one of my favourite Philip K. Dick novels, Galactic Pot Healer, into a screenplay (something to while away the commute home). Even back then, when he wrote that in 1969, he was predicting a future with video phones, and I remember as a kid thinking it wouldn’t be long before we got them at home. They just took a lot longer to arrive. And then when they did, only really in the past five-ten years, we were so used audio-only that video felt a bit odd for a while, especially for us who grew up audio only. It’s still quite telling how many people still choose to dial in for video conferences at work in audio-only mode.

I think if I’d had video calling when I was a kid, I would have loved it. My children certainly seem to instinctlively prefer video chat to audio only when they call me. The Gen-Z’ers seem to naturally prefer video chat as it does allow for full and easy communication. And if people struggle (as some of us always have) with talking in audio-only mode, then solutions to help them will be adopted. Us oldies will just have to get used to it, and understand that what went before isn’t always the best thing.

(‘Phonophobia’ is what my Dad used to say I suffered from, as opposed to fear of loud sounds, which is what it properly is).