Whatsapp(ened) to good old fashioned conversation?

Pradip Rodrigues

Recently I received a telephone call from someone who I hadn’t spoken to in months. As he rambled on for a while, my impatience grew and I not -so- subtly enquired about the reason for his call, there was an awkward silence and then he confessed that he called for no reason.phone Later on I regretted asking if he had a reason to call because there was a time we all did this quite naturally. In recent years I can’t think of a time I’ve made a call to anyone without reason. It had to be a birthday, a happy occasion, a condolence call or something. I’ve not felt comfortable calling anyone for the sake of calling. And mostly when people call me, it is to invite us to a get-together or to ask me about something.
It is not that I have dropped out of circulation, it is just that most of my friends, family and acquaintances have taken to communicating via text messages, Facebook and increasingly Whatsapp.
On a recent trip to India, I exchanged numbers with a person who specifically requested I add her on Whatsapp because she was more a texting person who rarely picked up the phone. I got the message.

Texting is preferred over picking up the phone

I have since realized that as many people I know now exclusively communicate via text messages, they’ve mostly stopped making or accepting calls, if they receive calls, I suspect they screen them as it usually goes to their answering machines. Quite frankly when I now receive a call from someone familiar, I get startled and start to wonder what happened.  I once startled a friend who has all the time in the world to go back and forth texting for hours by calling him. I could sense he was simply waiting to get off the phone, he was more comfortable texting than talking. Whether you realize it or not, with the rise of text messaging, even the most garrulous person is forced to retreat into ever increasing periods of silence given that all their friends are available on Whatsapp but don’t have the time or inclination to pick up the phone and chat.
In 2010 the number of text messages sent monthly in the U.S. exploded to 188 billion in 2010, according to a Pew Institute survey, today that number must have doubled. It is not just the 18-29 who’ve taken to texting over chatting, gradually I am noticing even those in their 40s and 50s are increasingly texting. And what happens is that as people become more comfortable texting and uncomfortable talking over the phone, they will become conversation-phobic. Cellphones are now used for everything but talking.
Not so long ago, I bumped into a friend who is super chatty and witty on Whatsapp, hoping to have a conversation in a similar vein, I was disappointed. She was aloof and had difficulty making conversation, I also noticed she filled up the periods of silence by furiously texting other friends. At some point I was quite tempted to whip out my Smartphone and do the smart thing- text her.
I was talking to another friend over the phone, yes I am still pretty old school and we spoke nostalgically about the days when friends, lovers and acquaintances built strong bonds all thanks to long phone and face-to-face conversations. I remember sitting in front of an old fashion phone armed with my phone book and call up anyone who I hadn’t spoken with in a month or less. Most of us were comfortable making calls to each other for no reason. These days I find people sending jokes and forwarding thoughtful quotes indiscriminately on Whatsapp and Facebook. Call them and they have precious little to say.

Phone calls seen as too time consuming

While I have nothing against texting which is a useful and practical way to reach someone and get to the point really quickly, I do draw the line at communicating exclusively on Whatsapp and Facebook. Most adults will notice that they make and receive way fewer calls today than they did some years ago. People have gotten busier and have little time or patience to endure a long call. For most working people, a long phone conversation is a luxury time doesn’t permit. The only people who seem to enjoy making or receiving phone calls are retired people with time on their hands. But then if they are hard of hearing, it is likely they too won’t receive too many calls.
The irony is that social media and texting has allowed us to form vast networks of connections, but the bonds of these relationships are brittle and tenuous. Social media is not the platform for anyone who wants to develop close and deep ties. For that you really have to pick up that phone and make that call… for no reason.
To me too much texting amounts to a life spent hiding in plain sight. I lament the fact that a phone is now officially a relic of a bygone era. Last week I actually called a startled friend and before he wondered why I called, I informed him that I called for no reason. He ofcourse didn’t believe me and so toward the end of the call, he actually asked me once again if there was anything in particular I called for, thinking I had forgotten why I called. But truth be told, I almost feel guilty calling someone simply to shoot the breeze anymore. I called another person once out of the blue for no apparent reason and in the middle of the conversation, she asked if everything was okay. She half-jokingly said she suspected I was going through a crisis. Perhaps I am.

Pradip Rodrigues started out as a journalist at Society magazine, part of the Magna Group in Mumbai. He wrote extensively on a variety of subjects. He later moved to the Times of India where he was instrumental in starting the now defunct E-times, a television magazine. He conceptualized Bombay Times and became its first assistant editor where he handled features and page three. Since coming to Canada in 2000, he has freelanced for newspapers and magazines in India and written autobiographies for seniors.

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