Hello, May I Speak to…?

“You answered the phone.” I can still hear my Grandma Mae, calling me at my first post-college job. I couldn’t tell if she was impressed that I was important enough to have a phone to answer or dismayed that whatever my job, I had to answer the phone. (The latter is correct.)

She called often, inviting me to dinner at their home in Flushing, Queens. I’d take a long subway ride from Manhattan and my grandfather would meet me at the station for the short drive to their house. We’d set a date and an approximate time. She’d caution me not to “look too pretty” on the subway. Miraculously, my grandfather always arrived on time, despite our lack of communication after the initial conversation.

The phone call apparently is dying. According to a survey cited by A.A. Gill in the April 2015 Vanity Fair, “Goodbye to Hello,” speaking into a phone is the “sixth thing” people use phones for.

As a teenager, I lived on the phone. I’d tie up the house line (the only line) for hours after school. No matter that I’d spent the entire day with my friends. From about 4 to 6, there was so much more to discuss, not least of which was what we planned to wear the next day. After dinner and piano practicing, the calls might resume, to compare homework answers, gossip and to confirm clothing plans. One couldn’t be too careful.

With cell phones, teen life changed a lot. When we moved to another town during my daughter’s high school years, I hardly got to know other parents. In a cell phone culture, kids make their own plans; there are no calling house lines, asking a parent if you could speak to your friend. Drop-offs and pick- ups at friends’ houses were curbside, no need to meet the adults.

Though I have a “smart” phone; I’m not that smart about using it. I don’t text and I don’t use too many apps. I use it to make calls (!) check email, and take photos occasionally.  What’s difficult about the reliance on these apparatus is we assume that if someone is texting or emailing, it means they are present enough to engage in a conversation. We had an experience this weekend with a lawyer and a realtor handling a transaction. Both seemed to have time to send emails; yet neither answered phone calls that would have saved time and prevented several emails crossing resulting in ambiguities and frustration. I guess I’m just not a good multi-tasker.

Customer service for the most part has been relegated to computers as we select what department we need from a menu of choices. Talking to a human is nearly impossible and often not much more helpful. The lack of human interaction pervades all industries.

I hopped over to London last week to see some cousins and friends. I stayed with an American friend, whose husband is British. Her three children have dual passports, making it easier to enter each country when flying back and forth. We chatted about how when she and children enter the US, they go through the faster lines at customs than her husband. She said she loves that when they come to the US, the custom official stamping their passports says “Welcome Home.” I shared that I have Global Entry, a status that allows me to scan my passport at a kiosk and walk through without waiting in any lines, no need to talk with anyone. Technology may make life more efficient but certainly not more social.




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25 Responses to Hello, May I Speak to…?

  1. Drjcwash says:

    It is amazing. I still call my mother because she does not text. I text my sisters but I just want to talk to them. I spend most of my free time at work answering emails. I often tell people to call the office. You are lucky not to have to stand in line but I do find it nice to talk to people especially when we travel. People do not talk to you when you are sitting because they are too busy texting, talking or checking email.


  2. And in some cases it’s not more efficient as you mentioned Lisa. I read an article recently that links a rise in depression to a moving away from face-to-face interactions. Having said that, I text, send emails, talk on the phone, mail letters, talk face-to-face usually based on the other person’s preference because, well I want to connect with people! ❤
    Diana xo


  3. My family didn’t have a phone when i was growing up, and I got my first home phone, only after I was married with a baby daughter. I guess we used letters to keep in touch with family who lived any distance away, and if my friends wanted to make arrangements for an outing, they came around to my house. Life without a phone these days, is almost unthinkable. How times have changed!


  4. jmgoyder says:

    Ming loves talking on the phone and gets impatient with his friends who prefer to text ha! Love your grandma telling you not to look too pretty ha!


  5. The phone was in demand at our house also. One upstairs and one down. Solid, sturdy – drop them on the floor, twist the cords – these things were built to last. The phone didn’t ring long before one of us picked it up. How things have changed. One activity that may be lower on the list than talking on the phone is listening to voice messages.


  6. Wow — your parents still have their rotary phone on the wall — how cool!

    In my studio, I have a big black rotary phone (as someone mentioned, it weighs a ton!) – it’s not plugged into anything, but I love its reminder to dial down to a slower pace.


  7. Wonderful post. I prefer a phone. I can’t yell at a computer when I don’t get service!!


  8. Hi Lisa,
    Times have indeed changed. It’s hard to keep up with the technology, when it gets outdated so fast. I never did learn to program my VCR. There was a time when I simply couldn’t understand the purpose of texting. Now I get it, and I do text, but on my dumb phone. So much to keep up with!


  9. I have no clue how to use the television– 4 remotes, so many buttons. It’s not technology I’m complaining of, just how it replaces so much human interaction.


  10. This is you, at your best, my friend. Love this post… it hits on so many things that resonate with me– re: changing culture, intimacy, friendship, and general social connectedness. Beautiful! Sorry I’m late to the party… seems to be my status quo lately! I just save my favorites until I can sit and really enjoy them! xox


  11. Thank you for the compliment! Always love to hear from you! xox


  12. hugmamma says:

    I totally agree. Communication has been totally computerized. We no longer hear the nuances in one another’s voices while emailing or texting. So much can be felt and understood through actual human contact. Robotics has taken over that most important of human interaction…reaching out to touch someone with our own unique voice. And we gave that away without much thought. Technology has evolved to the point of bursting…seemingly overnight. Where were we when it happened? Asleep at the wheel? Daydreaming? Or perhaps it’s just the way of the world…convenience trumps all else. Good post, Lisa.


  13. Pingback: Hugs: No Longer Free | cyclingrandma

  14. susanissima says:

    Just seeing your post now…sorry, Lisa…I’m thrilled that you wrote on this topic. Oh, how I mourn the death of phone conversations! Skype-ing has replaced the lovely phone call, and our unsmart phone is used only for texting. Sadly, when it rings, as in for an actual phone call, I just about have a heart attack thinking someone I adore has died. This, paired with the death of letter writing, is such a loss for those of us who have cherished human contact in those forms. I fear that eventually, the meaning of “letter” or “phone call” will elicit a simple, “Huh?”

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Leah says:

    Sorry to be so late leaving you a comment on this post (the problem with reading blogs on an iPad). I’m one of those people who is happy there are less phone calls. I’m NOT a phone person at all, and I don’t recall being on the phone much as a teenager either. It will be interesting to see what happens as kids get older – whether they’ll even talk on the phone at all.


  16. Yes, my kids rarely use the phone unless we ask them to call us. It’s mostly text and email.


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