Since 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell used his newfangled contraption to summon his assistant from another room, the telephone has evolved into the do-everything device it is today. No longer are we confined to the phones of yesteryear with their bulky size, limited connections, hand-cranks or cords. We have progressed to a tiny screen that enables us to capture pictures and video, text anyone anywhere, access our bank accounts, and accomplish nearly everything else in our daily routines.
I was late to get on the smartphone train, but I now find myself relying on my phone more and more – as an alarm clock, to-do list, calculator.
But I rarely use it to call someone. And not many people call me, either.
In short, the whole reason the phone was invented is now the last reason my generation uses it. Some sources say that 75 percent of millennials would rather text than talk on the phone.
Why we would rather text
There are several possible reasons why we’re more likely to ignore than accept phone calls, but here are four to consider:
- We can screen calls better.
- We want to edit our response.
- We’re in a hurry.
- We can do things more easily on our own.
The first two make total practical sense. If my phone rings (or vibrates) but I don’t recognize the number, I very rarely answer it. It’s probably an automated call anyway. And sometimes a particular conversation calls for more thought or careful wording, so it is nice to have time to come up with an appropriate response.
But the last two reasons seem to be indicative of deeper changes in our culture. Changes that aren’t just confined to phones.
We have been in a hurry for a few generations now. The rise of automation and productivity guides have urged us to get more done in less time, often robbing us of rest, joy — and actually getting things done.
To add to this, we are consistently pulling away from traditional community. Instead of spending quality and quantity time with others (in person, not on a screen), we are increasingly pulled away – by to-do lists, our virtual lives, or the often overused excuse of “me time.”
It’s not just about your phone
My public library recently installed self-checkout stations. I’ve noticed that whenever I ask an employee to check out my books, they point me to the self-checkout stand first, as if self-checkout is now the standard instead of something optional. Even a local fast food restaurant recently unveiled a self-checkout kiosk.
I think the same cultural shift behind our aversion to talking on the phone is the reason behind the rise of self-checkout stands at grocery stores and other places of business. We want to do more things faster. And we think we can do them more easily on our own.
Why have a 5-10 minute phone call when I can send a quick text and move on? Why go through a checkout line and put up with the typical small talk when I can race through my purchases without ever talking to anyone?
This is how we get things done.
But how much time would we really lose by answering the phone? Going through the checkout line? Looking up from our phones?
How much more would we gain by having real conversations?
Something to talk about
Don’t get me wrong. I love online banking, and I nearly always choose self-checkout at the grocery store.
This rise in automation and self-help “skills” isn’t all negative, or even recent. My grandmother recently told me how unheard of it used to be for someone to pump their own gas. There were attendants that did that – something I’ve never experienced.
But in our rush to be productive and self-sufficient, we may actually be missing something. Generation by generation, we are losing our ability to relate effortlessly to one another in real time. We’re increasingly inept at having genuine, relaxed, impromptu conversations. The kind that just happen while doing life side by side, or even just shopping in the same aisle.
We miss out on so much by racing to our next task or being glued to our mini-screens while out in public. There are people around us. Real, living, eternity-bound people. We affirm the technological marvels that are our phones when the people that fill our days are so much more amazing.
There is a place for productivity. There are valid reasons to ignore phone calls and to choose self-checkout when you need to get milk. But let’s check our heart attitudes toward our time and toward the people God has sent to be around us.
Think about it. Even better, get together with a friend and talk about it. Evaluate together how you use your phones, your time, and even the self-checkout line. Are you prioritizing tasks over the people God has put around you?
Give yourself time for conversations. You just might find something beautiful that you have missed.
Copyright 2019 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.