A Silent Society

Few people seem to make personal phone calls anymore just to say hello. In the old days, I would call my girlfriends and we’d spend hours chatting on the phone. But today, I’m lucky to get a terse email from my acquaintances asking if I want to meet for lunch.

What does this have to do with writing? Those of us who are full-time writers sit home alone all day. Our characters might keep us company, but it’s not the same as hearing a human voice. How long can you go without yearning to have a real conversation?


Despite having my retired husband at home, I still wonder why so few of my girlfriends pick up a phone anymore. Is it that they’re so involved with their busy lives? Is it because they’re afraid of interrupting my muse? Or do people nowadays consider it an inconvenience and a waste of time to talk on the phone? Our children are grown, so we don’t have to compare notes on child rearing. We’re not school kids, so we can’t moan about homework assignments or share high school angst. But in those days of starry-eyed youth, we would discuss the meaning of life, our knotty relationships with others, our fears and doubts. Do we writers just talk about them with our fingers on the keyboard now instead of our voices?


There’s great comfort in picking up the phone and hearing someone say, “I was just wondering how you’re doing.” Or, “I called to say hello.” What’s happened to those days? Is it my friends, or my attitude that’s off kilter? I still have intimate conversations with distant relatives on the phone. But that doesn’t apply to local friends. Is the telephone an outmoded device for social interaction? Are online social networks replacing real, live conversations? Texting and email are too impersonal and brief to count.

Or maybe it’s that cell phones are not as comfortable to talk on for any length of time as a landline. When speaking with this device close to my ear, I’m aware of the invisible rays boring into my head and the possible link to brain tumors. Or can it be a matter of economics, that people don’t want to use up their precious cell phone minutes on a frivolous call?

I still like to hear another human voice. Maybe that relegates me to the age of the dinosaurs.


What about you? Do you still have conversations with friends on the telephone?

20 thoughts on “A Silent Society

  1. I’ve never been much for telephone calls. To me a phone call is intrusive. It’s an uninvited interruption into someone’s day. You can tell because you can hear them doing other stuff in the background while talking. The phone is a get in, get out, get ‘er done kind of tool.

    There are exceptions, and I think they know who they are, but overall I prefer my phone contacts to be short and to the point.

    John Gilstrap

  2. Interesting topic, Nancy. I hadn’t given it much thought before. Maybe the speed of life these days, plus the comfort factor, help explain.

    As to the first, people just don’t sit and do one thing for any length of time anymore.

    And I think old style phones felt more comfortable in your hand and on your ear.

  3. That’s an interesting question, Nancy. It would be somewhat ironic if telecommunication has become less used as it has become more convenient and portable.

    My own personal calls tend to be to older friends who are in poor health or dire straits. It’s a more personal way to check up on them. But just to talk…rarely, with an exception or two.

  4. I have to interact with 12 bazillion people every day on the day job, many by phone, so no, I do not want any interaction with humans on the phone or otherwise when I come home (unfortunately not possible as even at home I can’t be alone).

    But to be fair, I have ALWAYS hated talking on the phone. Even when I was school age I found it bothersome when folks would interrupt me from what I was doing to call and talk mostly nonsense.

    And recently, having foolishly given up my landline and went to all cell phone, I found out how painful talking on a cell phone is on your elbow when I DID so happen to speak to a long distance friend of mine for a while. Won’t be doing that again till I find some kind of contraption to make cell phone talking less painful.

    But I was never fond of chatting on the phone like most gals.

  5. Well, BK, I know my daughter has inherited my trait because she talked her way on the phone all through high school. And we still talk just to exchange news about the day. Maybe it’s what James said, too, that people are so busy they don’t want to waste time on a chatty conversation. But typing doesn’t take the place of a real voice.

  6. I used to talk on the phone to my friends for hours as well, but not anymore. When calling friends I get the same response you mentioned: a short, terse conversation, not the welcoming, hours long conversation of old.

    What’s really strange is that a few years ago I used to spend a lot of time on the phone with business clients. Now those same clients don’t want to talk on the phone, either. They want to do everything via e-mail and text. It’s as if they feel that actual vocal contact is wasting their time. Yet I still have thousands of minutes available…

    Yeah, the easier it is to call the less people want to talk.

  7. When I want to have a voice conversation, I’ll arrange to get together with a friend for dinner, a movie, shopping. Then I’ll have their undivided attention, and they’ll have mine.

    Otherwise, give me email. People speak at about 150-175 words a minute. I read at around 350. I can get the same info in less than half the time and without the hemming and hawing that takes place in a voice conversation.

    For business, I absolutely want email. I can file the mail away for later reference or forward it to other stakeholders, and I can read it at a time that works in my schedule. If I do a business phone call, I have to take notes that will be no where near as complete or as easily filed as an email and those notes may not make any sense to other people who need the same information.


  8. For business, I’ll prefer email as well, unless it’s a writer friend and I want to discuss career options or promo ideas. But as you say, a lunch date can accomplish the same purpose. Still, what does it say about our society that no one wants to communicate by telephone anymore except when necessary?

  9. Most people think I am a people person. I’m on stage a lot both as a teacher and as a musician, on the radio pretty often, and on the phone constantly as an IT guy. But to be very honest, I really prefer to not be in contact with people as much as possible. I like to take long silent walks in the woods where there is no cell phone reception and few if any people. And both at home and work always look at the caller ID to decide if I want to pick up the phone.

    Now that may just be because I currently spend so much time in contact with people, and when the time comes that I’m a full time writer and narrator spending all of my hours hidden in my office with imaginary friends I may again crave to be out with the reals. But for now…not so much.

  10. Basil, it sounds as though you have plenty of personal contacts, so I can understand your need for solitude. Similarly, if we go to a conference, that’s an experience that makes us want to crawl inside our writing caves.

  11. Working at home alone:( in SOCAL I would trot over to the pharmacy or grocery for any old reason. Go to the dry cleaners and complain about all the unwanted O.J. attention in the neighborhood.

    Now, in the wilderness of Montana (we got great cell reception here – unlike Alaska), a good horse or a stray dog is always up for a nice chat.

    Okay. I’ve got FREE long distance. I’ll call anybody on the lonely writer’s hotline. Just post your phone number!!

  12. I talk to family a lot – several times a week in fact – and some of those calls can last over an hour. We talk about family, kids, work, ideas, etc. The key for me is that the calls are untethered; I use earphones with a mic on the cord attached to my iPhone. So I can clean, do needlework, etc., while on the phone. Timing is important too. I don’t call when I know it’s meal time or time for them to put kids to bed. I am also contented going several days at a stretch without those conversations. One friend, who tends to be regimented in her life (I’m the opposite), always set a time for us to call, once a week, for at least an hour. That worked okay too. It’s a matter of priority, I think, and a willingness to make time for people in the way they want you to.

  13. Jim, that’s amusing about the dog being up for a chat. It’s true; I used to talk to our poodle when she was alive. Now I have my retired husband around if I want a conversation, except he does most of the talking! Maybe that’s why I miss my conversations with girlfriends. LOL

  14. Susanna, what you say is true, too. It IS a matter of making time for the people you care about. We should never be too busy that we can’t pick up the phone. Email is not a substitute, just as an email greeting card isn’t the same as getting a stamped card in the mail.

  15. I have my work hours for writing & my family & friends respect that. They don’t call unless it’s an emergency.

    But I love taking my first break of each day by calling my mom. She expects it too. It’s our thing. I generally love hearing from people though, but I don’t talk a lot on the phone.

    My siblings have gotten into a funny thing we do with text messaging. One of us starts by texting, GUESS WHERE I AM & send a weird picture. A flood of funny responses follow & things get out of control. I never used text msgs before, but now I keep in touch with my brothers & sisters more than I ever did before. My supper club friends abuse each other regularly via text msgs too. Texting has turned into a fun way to stay in touch, without the time commitment of a real conversation. Weird, I know.

  16. I’m a little late to the party, but I’ll chime in.

    The only person I liked spending a long time on the phone with was my brother. We’d talk for hours about the political scene or whatever bizarro world problem I had that day. He was homebound with health problems and always there. He was truly my lifeguard and I was his window on the world outside his insulated existence.

    With my contemporary friends, I always seem to have a Facebook chat window open. We drop in and out throughout the day. No pressure. If you are busy or don’t want to talk you leave. No harm. No foul and no trying to extricate yourself from a conversation.

    So, the answer to your question is that I don’t have an answer. Like John, I’m not a fan of the phone. It usually means someone has a problem or wants something. I doubt I will ever have the same intense phone based relationship I had with my older brother.


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