.... And I won't call you either.
One of the nice things about being a grown up, I am belatedly discovering, is that it's all right not to eat things just because you don't like them (no one can make you any more), and it's possible to say 'actually, I prefer not to use the telephone.'
For maybe seventy years, the phone was a necessary evil. But now, thanks to email and the wonders of SMS, it simply isn't necessary any more. (I always say, and it is nothing less than the truth, that without the advent of email, I would not have the career I have now. I simply couldn't have made the contacts if I had had to phone people up.) Evil? Well, not literally. But certainly I always found it oppressive. I hated making calls (the idea that you were imposing into someone's life), and I hated receiving them - being expected to jump to it the instant someone, be they friend, stranger or salesman, wanted my attention. But it wasn't just this seething resentment. There is something very strange and unnatural about a phone conversation. It is a conversation, and yet not a conversation. The visual cues which contribute so much to communication are totally absent. Now, I know this is also true of written communication, but the thing is, we know that's not a conversation; we approach it differently and make allowances for its inadequacies. It also has compensating advantages. A phone conversation on the other hand, is merely an inadequate conversation, an emasculated, shadow of one.
People say that with emails etc there's a danger of firing off a reply before you've thought about it properly. And so there is, if you're careless. But on the phone you have no choice. You have to reply instantly, to fill the void of silence. Under that sort of pressure, how easy it is to say the wrong thing, or for it to come across differently from how you meant it, especially when there is no kind or amused look to soften the blow. And everyone must surely know how heartrendingly frustrating it is to have a row on the phone, how hollow and fruitless.
But, as I said, necessary no more. In fact we will look back on the era of long-distance aural communication as a brief anomoly between periods when the written word was the only way to communicate over long distances.* In the nineteenth century there were up to seven postal collections and deliveries per day - scarcely different from emails pinging back and forth.
The written note gives us time to think, to formulate our thoughts, moderate our reactions, and craft our communication. It's no substitute for a face to face conversation, but it doesn't pretend to be. But unlike the phone call, it's a useful complement to it.
Also, people worry that 'text speak' is killing the art of letter writing. But - execrable as it can be - it isn't; the telephone was the greatest threat to that. Email and even text may actually, in a small way, be reviving it. People had lost the art of writing elegant English long before early SMS required them to abbreviate everything; those who did have that facility certainly didn't lose it as soon as the Nokia was in their hand; they (we) are the ones who write 1000 character texts complete with correct punctuation.
And while that may not be a very elegant rounding off, I must leave it there, and go and have some dinner. Early start tomorrow - we really are going to go and check on Chertsey, but it's going to have to be a day trip.
*Stephen Fry, I think it was, pointed this out.
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1 week ago