We Don't Talk Any More

09 Dec 2017

Remember when we talked on the phone?

As a teenager, living a 40-minute drive from my friends (and lacking a car), I used to do this all the time. Telstra once had a "$3 deal" for calls of up to five hours, and an interstate friend and I made it a point of pride to use up the time.

Now, living in London, still a 40-minute tube ride from my friends (and still lacking a car), I don't. In fact, calling someone out of the blue has crossed the line from something you don't do to something that you Don't Do. It's reserved for emergencies to such an extent that one of my friends, if she does phone me, always starts with "hi - nothing's on fire" (unless something is).

It feels impolite, an imposition. Rather than saying "I value your friendship, and I'm thinking of you", phoning someone now seems to say "I don't care about your schedule - talk to me immediately".

Instead, we use asynchronous messaging - terse blue notes in facebook messenger, traded intermittently in the gaps between chores, in momentary interruptions stolen from other conversations, and never about anything of importance. On the plus side, messages never run the risk of imposing on each other at all. On the minus side: well, what is friendship, if not occasional imposition?

It seems like a sensible adaptation. We're all older, we're stupidly busy, we have partners now, and wide but shallow networks. It's come to feel normal. But, like so much that Londoners take for granted, what's "normal" is also deeply unhealthy.

I'm going to experiment with this. Even in our busy lives, I think there's space, and even a high ratio of "sorry can't talk right now" to real conversation-starters probably results in a win for everyone.

So if the phone rings, it's just me, and nothing's on fire.