In the past year, I’ve been on a mission to pester as many people in my life as possible. The first victim was my editor, whom I abruptly asked one morning to stop messaging me about story ideas on our office’s chat platform, Slack. Instead, I said, let’s talk the ideas out over the phone. I soon did the same thing to a friend who’d texted to discuss a job offer he’d just received. A few weeks later, when another friend texted me for New York City apartment-hunting tips, I asked her my new favorite question in return: Do you want to give me a call?
The phone call has lost its primacy in American communication. By 2014, texting had become more common for Americans under 50. The popularity of text-based communication tools such as WhatsApp and Instagram direct messaging has exploded since. People currently in their 20s and 30s, in particular, have developed a reputation for being allergic to phone calls. The phone call, like chain restaurants and golf, is among the cultural institutions that Millennials might murder.
True to this generational stereotype, I long sent my own mother to voicemail and texted her to ask what she wanted. Instead of calling my hair salon to make an appointment, I’d simply let my roots grow for an extra six or eight weeks, until the place bothered me enough to dial the number. No matter the task, I’d always text or email first. Was there an app for that? Even better. If all options failed, I’d simply prefer not to get what I wanted rather than talk to a live human. Phone calls force you to contend with the messy reality of living in a world where other people might need your attention without warning you through a calendar invite two weeks in advance. Phone calls don’t let you ignore a message for four days, confident in its innocuousness.