The revival of the phone call

2012-05-03 00:00

WHEN I was a child, I could chat to my friends on the phone for hours. My best friend and I even had code words for when we needed the other to put the handset down and call back, pretending to be someone else; this to confuse our exasperated parents.

Then technology took over and, by the time I was at university, the poor-student syndrome had led me to become a fanatical subscriber to instant messaging systems such as Mxit, mobile e-mail and various e-mail messenger services. The cheaper the means to communicate, the higher it ranked on my method-of-choice list, and the more it transformed the way I communicated with people. I began to dread confronting real people, even over the phone, and chose typing over speaking whenever the opportunity arose.

With time, the ability to communicate via instant messaging services increased to the extent where there was almost no need to communicate in any other way. Calling seemed like a waste of money and time and was generally more interruptive than easy conversations via whatsapp, Blackberry messenger, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter ... and any other means from the endless list of instantaneous message systems. All recipients on the outdated side of the technological front were simply sidelined.

I signed up late under pressure to the Blackberry fanatics club to save myself from being sidelined by even my closest friends who refused to call or SMS because it was “too expensive”.

My social ranking boomed to Gossip Girls’ Queen Bee status once I had one of the largely unreliable, but still rather popular, fruit-named phones in my hand. It was cheap. It was easy ... So easy that it became annoying.

Conversations transformed into constant spillings of mindlessness that were repeated in cycles with almost every “friend”:



“wud” (what you doing)

“chilling. U”


“whats news?”

“nothing much. U?”


“cool. wat u cuking for supper?”

The constant availability of conversation killed the quality. It removed the requirement of effort to get hold of someone and disallowed the passing of time between encounters in which material worth sharing could be gathered. Once, people had space to build a list of interesting things to say to people they hadn’t been in touch with for ages. Now, the day-to-day routine of life has spread its mundaneness into everyday interactions with frivolous small talk filling the gaps between the life you lead and the life you plan to lead.

Supper, that chick next door, celeb gossip, bowel movements, recycled jokes and frustrated rants claim the trophy in the most-talked-about category on social media, among endless apologies for miscommunications and wasted syllables explaining what was really meant.

And so things changed. Without any special effect or fireworks, the value of instant messaging systems diminished and became simply a stepping stone to initiating conversation and meeting up, rather than the vehicle that drives it. And, I wasn’t the only one who had shifted away from cheap, easy banter.

When it comes to people who matter, and conversations that are meaningful, there seems to be a trend where the phone call and the rendezvous are revived. People are tired of the banality of instant messaging which doesn’t offer an escape from everyday life and instead extrapolates it.

Beyond the craziness of the modern-day stress-filled life is a need for humanity to truly connect. People want people in their lives, which is initially what spurred the popularity of instant messaging services and techno-driven modes of communication.

There’s only so long a relationship with a phone can sustain human life, and having one-on-one human interaction again is like reverting to an old habit that has assisted us since evolution.

Um ... technology 15 — human contact 37?

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