Mind & Body

why people don’t want to talk on the phone anymore


In today’s 7 second attention-span world, finding the time and energy for a phone call (and the small talk) can feel impossible.

“You really don’t have to call me back,” texts my friend, almost desperately, when replying to my second voicemail of the day. “Just text me.”

Oh no you don’t, I think, as I search out her number in my phone. I’m calling you back right now and talking to you.

Oh. Yes. I. Am! I press the call button.

It goes to voicemail. I can’t say I’m surprised. She’s had to talk to me twice today already; that’s a month’s worth of phone conversation between us. She must be exhausted. “Call me back!” I sing sunnily as I leave another voicemail.

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I’m challenging myself to actually call people for 48 hours, my reasoning being that we’re so used to texting, we’ve forgotten the art of the phone call. My mum rarely picks up the phone to talk to me, preferring to jot down her questions.

For instance: “Have you tried the Aldi sausages yet?” My husband never picks up the phone but, intriguingly, will text me a long paragraph about how busy he is, which probably takes longer than a phone call would.

Psychologist Briony Leo, from relationship wellness app Relish, says my family’s communication situation isn’t unique to us. “A lot of it has to do with the ‘always on’ nature of communication in modern times,” she says.

“We’re getting a lot of contact regularly and our attention is divided. Actually talking to someone requires quite a lot of resources – your entire attention, body language, time for an actual conversation – and we tend to avoid this in favour of a more efficient option: a 10-second text rather than a 10-minute phone call.”

Clinical hypnotherapist and founder of the Mindology app Claire Aristides says the irony is that this goes against human nature as social creatures. “Interactions stimulate us. They create communities. We share experiences and memories through conversation,” she explains. “Yet, like anything in life, bad habits creep in…and texting over calling is one of them.”

It’s a battle to get anyone to talk to me during my experiment. I call a work colleague first – it rings through to her voicemail. I then ring the hubby.

Miraculously, he answers, though it turns out he’s having a nap and has nothing to add aside from a yawn. I tell him to call me back. Three minutes later he texts me to ask what I wanted.

Leo has some helpful advice. “In some scenarios, email or text is the more polite and rational option,” she says. “Maybe someone is working and they don’t have time or resources to speak to you over video or phone.”

If you do want to try to reintroduce conversation into your relationships, Leo suggests you move slowly. “It pays to consider the needs of the person you’re connecting with,” she warns. “Do they have capacity for a chat, or is it going to be an additional burden on their time, too?”

I tell my friend who won’t answer my calls that I’m no longer going to text her. She says she “probably won’t pick up 90 per cent of the time”, citing something about me not “getting to the point quickly enough”.

I try not to take it personally. No-one has time to chat, right?

“Words are powerful,” says Aristides. “There’s compelling research to show that the words we hear from others physiologically change us. It makes sense that calm, loving words from a friend can calm our breathing and heart rate down.”

I text Aristides’ words to my friend.

She replies with the *woman shrugging* emoji.

Want to change your texting habits?

Clinical hypnotherapist Claire Aristides reveals how.

  1. Don’t let every call you receive go to voicemail – answer at least once a day.
  2. If you don’t want to disturb someone with a call, send a voice message – particularly if you have something exciting to share; all the richness of your intonation is still shared in your voice message.
  3. Use a text message as a way to sound people out. For example, “Can you chat for five minutes?” sends the message you respect they may be busy.
  4. This one’s simple: make at least one call today.