Ok … so, yeah that all sounds great … right, good … well, you know I really should be going … okay, good … well, bye … okay, talk to you soon … goodbye …
— me, attempting to end a phone call
I don’t like most phone calls — because many of them have no natural end or middle. I’ve got the beginning “Hello” down, but after that it’s a little touch-and-go.
The phone is great for getting information quickly (though text-messaging, to prove the point, is even more efficient), but just chatting on the phone with no particular goal in mind has always struck me as a little awkward. Not really awkward like the whole of middle school or driving by someone you know whilst rocking out in the car. It’s more on the level of wearing the same shirt as someone at a meeting: bad, but survivable. David Mitchell (the British comedian of “Peep Show” fame) dislikes the phone almost as much as I do.
It’s not that I dislike all phone calls. There are a handful of people that I like to call on a regular basis, but they are all folks I know really well. Because I know them really well, there’s always something to talk about.
I also am perfectly happy chatting about nothing in particular, just not on the phone. On the phone, I really need to talk about something.
Mitchell suggests that the problem with a phone conversation is that it’s chat without the coffee. But the real difference between the phone chat and the chat over coffee or lunch isn’t just food and drink as a pretext: it’s a shared experience. Conversation is only partly about the words, and words are at the service of what the interlocutors really want to share with one another, their experience of the world. Put another way: the coffee is part of the conversation.
On the phone all we have are words, but human conversation is reaching for something more.