the cut opinion pages

Actually, Phone Calls Are Good

A woman enjoying phone calls. Photo: Underwood Archives/UIG/Shutterstock

I love phone calls. I wish I could call you right now and tell you how much I love them, but don’t worry, I won’t. Even I realize a lot of people find talking on the phone off-putting.

“A phone call is my idea of a sick joke,” Mollie Goodfellow wrote in The Telegraph this past March. “Most of the twenty-and thirty-somethings I socialize with would rather suck Donald Trump’s toe than make or receive a call in order to have a chat,” Daisy Buchanan explained, vividly, at The Guardian back in 2016. “I hate talking on the phone,” a colleague told me. “Phone calls are my nightmare,” said another.

In talking to my friends and colleagues (in person or over Slack; not on the phone), they told me that they found phone calls awkward, a waste of time, and “a battle.” They said they didn’t like that you couldn’t read people’s body language over the phone, that they never know how to smoothly exit a conversation, that phone calls usually mean bad news. Plus: What’s the point when you can just text or email someone?

I respect and admire my wonderful friends and colleagues so much, which is why it pains me to say the following:

Ring ring. Ring ring. You’re wrong!

Phone calls can have some awkward bumps in them, sure — the moment where both of you pause, waiting for the other person to say something, and then you both start talking, and then you both say, “Sorry. You go. No, you go. Okay, well … Oh sorry. You go.” But so much about being a human is so embarrassing; this little hiccup really isn’t bad in the grand scheme of things. And while it’s true you miss out on body-language cues, you still get a lot more information about a person’s emotional state — sighs, laughter, pained groans — over the phone than you do in a text.

With few exceptions, I don’t enjoy texting unless it’s to coordinate plans, or to exchange pictures of dogs acting zany (just look at this little goof). I can’t have real conversations over text because I inevitably have too many follow-up questions like “What?” “Are you kidding?” and “Oh my God?” And emails? Come on. Emails are for sending passive-aggressive “Just circling back on this!” messages and chaotic, bcc’d party invitations, or for looking at grainy pictures of flowers your grandpa sent you from his AOL account.

The key to enjoying a phone call, I think, is to understand what kind of phone call it’s going to be, and what to expect from it. There is:

The Confirmation Call

Most business calls fall into this category (ideally), but there are so many other, wonderful things to confirm in life. My dinner reservation at seven? Confirmed. My dog’s bordetella vaccine? This afternoon at three, boom. Does the Target nearest my apartment stock pasta makers? No! Expect more, get less.

Nothing makes me feel more in control of my life than confirming something over the phone. Confirmation calls are easy, fast, efficient, and when it feels like the world is crumbling around me, hearing someone at the other end of the line tell me that one thing, at least, is going according to plan, is incredibly soothing.

Note: This is not to be confused with …

The Customer Service Call

I hesitate to mention this one, because, as I’ve said, I love phone calls so much. But there is one phone call that is, almost without exception, terrible. It is the call you make to a large, national or multinational corporation — an insurance company, or an airline, or a cable provider — when you need something from them. These calls will inevitably be long, arduous for you, and probably for the person on the other end of the line who wants to help you but can’t because of their corporate overlords. These calls will sap your will to live, and when they’re over, you probably won’t have gotten what you needed. The only way to handle them is to accept this fact, and come to peace with it.

The Catch-Up Call

Catch-up calls are the lifeblood of a lot of long-distance relationships, platonic or romantic. I make mine on Sundays, lacing up my sneakers, strapping my dog into her harness, and walking up and down the streets of my neighborhood for hours, phone pressed to my face. These are the Big Talks, about jobs, relationships, excitements, frustrations. Because they tend to be longer, it can be good to schedule these calls beforehand, though an unexpected catch-up call can be an entertaining treat. As one Cut editor said recently after an unplanned phone call with a friend, “It was like a podcast I could participate in.”

Catch-up calls are a great way to talk through your problems, because for the most part, the person you’re talking to is removed enough from your day-to-day life that they can offer valuable perspective. Advice like, “Dump them,” and “I think you could be really happy in Austin,” and “Dump them.”

The Time Killer

This is, in many ways, the most intimate type of phone call. These are the calls you make when you have a limited amount of time, and you don’t necessarily have anything to say — maybe you’re walking to the grocery store, or waiting outside a bar for a friend, or you’re bored in your apartment, and you want to interact with someone but you don’t want to put on shoes. Both parties need to be close enough that they feel comfortable being slightly, lovingly rude to each other — periodically pulling the phone away from their ear to address another person in the room, ending the call abruptly because their order of pad thai arrived. The recipients of these calls are generally parents, siblings, partners, friends you’d feel comfortable sending a picture of your new rash, anyone who cares about you enough that they’re happy to serve as temporal packing peanuts.

Unlike in catch-up calls, serious topics are rarely discussed on time-killer calls, because you probably have to go soon. Instead, it’s mostly stuff like, “Should I get a fanny pack?” and “Did you see on Facebook that So-and-so is doing that makeup pyramid scheme now?”

In conclusion, phone calls are great. Call me sometime!

Actually, Phone Calls Are Good