I Went on a Texting Detox Even Though I Really, Truly Hate Talking on the Phone
The way I feel about using my phone for its previously intended purpose—to talk—is somewhat akin to the archetypal scene in Trainwreck, wherein Bill Hader's character calls Amy Schumer's after their first sexual encounter. "He called me on purpose," she says to Vanessa Bayer's character, who (rightfully so, in my mind) responds, "Hang up. He's obviously like sick or something."
I wish I could argue that speaking to someone directly makes me feel wistful and nostalgic, like the romantic quality reading an actual newspaper or flipping through a thrifted novel yields. But the reality for me is quite the opposite. It can feel stagnant, too intimate, or ultimately like a waste of time. Unless I have a complex story to tell or something specific to discuss, the pleasantries and small talk, to me, are gratuitous. It's comparable to an hour-long meeting that could easily have been summed up in an email. I appreciate concrete phrases and less flowery discourse. Which, as a writer by profession, is a complicated thing to admit. Though I like to believe it speaks to my penchant for language. I want time to think before answering and make sure the words I choose are useful and deliberate.
I realise, even as I write this, in a lot of ways this type of thinking reveals my age—and the generation with which I grew up. Technology has, in some ways, always been a part of my personal lexicon. I'm not of the generation that learned to swipe on an iPad before their first words (i.e. my nephew), but I did have AIM in middle school and a cell phone in high school. Perhaps, even, I'm still reeling from the time boys or bullies (yes, it happened) would call my house and have to speak to my dad before I could pick up the phone. It's uncomfortable.
As part of our Detox Week, seven days dedicated to unplugging in a reasonable way (because by virtue of our lives and jobs, modern humans can't disconnect entirely), I've decided to confront my telephone affliction head-on—by cutting out texting in favour of real-time conversations over the phone. They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger…
The parameters are simple: For five days, I have to make calls instead of crafting text messages. If someone texts me, I have to answer with a phone call. The only exception I've decided to make is for group chats. There's no plausible way to for me to individually call each person as part of a larger conversation. Instead, if I have anything meaningful to say as a result of those texts, I'll call the person I'd like to say it to.
Personally, this experiment is my Everest. It's so far from my usual behaviour I genuinely don't know if I'll be able to hack it. For family members, it feels slightly easier, as I customarily chat with them on the phone anyway—so my mother, father, and brother are less of a worry. My friends and romantic interests are another story. In the digital age of dating, picking up the phone to call someone discernibly means something more than answering or initiating a text.
As such, for my own sanity, I decided I'm allowed to first warn whomever I feel necessary that this is an experiment and not a declaration of *~feelings*~. I'm a millennial at my core, after all.
I started off with a vengeance. For the first few days, I spoke to more friends on the phone before lunch and ran in and out of enough conference rooms to last a lifetime. It was then I realised another integral part of my initial argument: productivity. It's impossible to spend my days writing stories with enough competency and serviceable value if I have to continually pause and dash elsewhere to have a conversation. Usually, I'd answer with a two-second text message and continue working, but having to follow up with a phone call adds a layer of time-consuming complexity I wasn't prepared for. The number of times I said, "I'm on a deadline," in a faintly panicked voice over the phone was, well, a lot.
By the middle of the week, I found myself avoiding people—the solution to my previous problem seemed to be going silent. If I couldn't text and didn't have time to call, I'd leave communication entirely unanswered. Which, of course, encouraged probing texts from my friends and family wondering where I was and if I was ok. I pride myself on maintaining a quickness to my responses for that very reason, so going off the grid was definitely out of the ordinary.
As my week of exhausted conversations came to a close, I had a series of misunderstandings. Usually, in the case of a disagreement, I'd feel comfortable creating and wording a proper text with all my thoughts and feelings—written out exactly as I mean it. But since I wasn't able to do to that, I sent a series of messages that were quick and without attention or reflection. It was then when I was finally grateful to be able to jump on the phone and hear the other person's voice and reaction. "Never going through those sticky moments," explains Lori Harder, the author of A Tribe Called Bliss, "like being able to hear the tone of someone's voice while sharing the tough stuff is why texting is keeping us at an arm's length and misunderstood. Talking gives you a much higher chance of solving problems—you can hear how someone is feeling and you are willing to give it more time to work through to a resolution."
It was that last issue that really turned things around for me in the case of this experiment. I feel most comfortable, as I said, with the time and freedom to plan what I say and how I say it. It allows me to come off calm and cool—as well as detached and unaffected. The thing is, this type of communication, while concrete and direct, grants me the ability to illustrate a version of myself which isn't always accurate. I am emotional, I do get mad, and I can be sensitive. We all can. I'm not a cyborg who views pragmatism over everything else. But there's something about growing up with an iPhone at my fingertips that has allowed this projection of myself to endure—the boilerplate "cool girl" archetype that has perhaps been constructed based on our ability to forgo IRL human connection for carefully worded text messages and deliberately selected emoji.
"We use a different language over text," says Harder. According to her, by texting during awkward-seeming conversations, we're removing the context with which we had to practice moving through "weirdness" and nerves. Now, those muscles have been neglected. "If we can learn to mirror the same expressions over the phone as we do over text, things will feel more comfortable." The not knowing what to say, not feeling charming enough, or wanting to disappoint anyone, or even my reticence in revealing how I'm really feeling has added to my loathing of talking on the phone. Perhaps it's fear more than anything.
In the end, I'm better off for having come to this realisation. I'm by no means the first person to intellectualise the problematic nature of building yourself up as the cool girl—Gillian Flynn's 2012 novel, Gone Girl, made the same profession. Then there were thousands of think pieces after that, likening this generation's cool girl to the manic pixie dream girl of years past—the idea that the phrase "you're not like other girls" is supposed to be a compliment. As if you have to distance me from other women in order to make my behaviour seem valid. It is the first time I realised, however, I was using my text messages as a way to sculpt myself into that mould, hacking away at the very things that make me human.
I do think text messages have a place in our world—allowing for quick, easy communication when a phone call would take more frivolous time. It opens opportunities to get to know people you wouldn't otherwise call. But it's important to recognise the limitations it breeds as well. In this case, my ability to express genuine emotion without fear of rejection. So I'm empowering myself to make more phone calls when I feel I'm shutting myself off like that again. And if that makes me uncool, so be it.