The concept of a phone conversation isn’t difficult is it? Regardless of IQ scores, intelligence levels and even common sense capacities, the two way pattern of I speak, you speak, repeat until fade, is not really something you would expect people to struggle with. Yet, so often they fail dismally to recreate simple social skills through those long distance wires. It’s as if the minute the handset is next to their ear or the camera of Skype has its unflattering lens trained on their face, they transform into a stiff and stilted wet fish of propriety. I often find I have more stimulating chats with call centre employees than I do with members of my own family.
It must be said though that this is mainly male members of my family. The one glaring exception is my grandfather who could quite happily natter for hours to a brick wall – human interaction being low on his list of requirements for an enjoyable conversation. Yet in the main our dialogue is littered with awkward silences and shallow but frustrated sighs, all rounded off with a nice, ‘soo…I’ll erm, speak to you later?’ This is a nice signal of relief to both parties, who then can’t trip over their words quick enough in their haste to put an end to the torturous routine.
However, while men might be struck temporarily dumb by the scary concept of technological communication, women have a completely different annoying habit. The “phone voice” is something which baffles and irritates me beyond belief. Sometimes, I can’t even recognise people when they answer at first, the pitch and tone of their voice so distorted by a strange and misplaced desire to sound sweetly polite and breathily happy.
I just don’t understand why people can’t just talk on the phone the way they do normally. One of my friends used to treat phone calls like a military operation; barely had the greeting left her lips than her question, demand or information was already forming. I often thought that she probably longed for my voicemail to cut out the hassle of having to actually wait for my reply (not that she did all the time anyway). It has taken me years to gradually lengthen our exchanges to the point where they do now resemble a normal conversation. Ironically though the closest to our normal banter we get is when she spots me walking towards her from the other end of the road, waving, still on the other end of the phone.
It just seems to me that, while the devices themselves we use to communicate with become ever more sophisticated, our ability to use them often does not follow suit. There are those rare few who seem to revel in their Skype conferences and have a different ringtone for everyone in their phonebook, but I have no more wish to adopt their smug suits and smiles than I do to prolong my Gran’s questions on the weather.
Photo credit – Ian Britton