When did I start hating the phone?

I was thinking about this yesterday while I was at my parents’ house. I’m here in San Antonio until tomorrow.

Ring! Goes their land line. Ring! Hello! Pick me up!

OH GOD, I think, a familiar sense of dread coming on. Who is it? What do they want?

Ring!

What did I do? Am I in trouble?

RING!

Jesus. Please turn over to voicemail! Please please please, so I can stop freaking out. This is making me anxious.

Ahhh, I breathe. Silence. Sweet, savory silence. All is right in the world! Now, hopefully that person will write an email.

Where were we, O Magazine?

ring!

F! GAH! Shut up!!

When did it get like this? Why do I hate the phone so much? Especially when I don’t know who’s calling?

I like to blame it on digital culture, and the fact that we’re all so used to communicating online these days. Which is disconcerting, because I certainly don’t want to forget how to talk to people. But I think I know the real reason, and it has little to do with Twitter or Facebook. I’m almost positive I can trace it back to a string of by-phone incidents that I haven’t quite gotten over yet, and I’m still waiting to man up and forget about it. This is how a typical phone conversation during that period went:

“Hello, Tolly. We’d like to discuss your less-than-impressive results.”

“Oh, ok. What results concern you specifically?”

“Well” – exasperated, exhausted sigh – “how much time do you have?”

And then, one to two hours later, I would gently place the phone back into its cradle, and contemplate how to kill myself.

This is why the phone is absolutely terrifying. When I’m working by email, I can collect my thoughts, make compelling arguments, and more easily exercise my command of the English language. When I’m talking on the phone, my responses to these types of calls are usually:

“Um?”

“No? Yes?”

“Wow.”

“But-”

“Yshmklyn? Umfrti. Pqlyrnt?”

I’ve always been a stronger writer than talker. And when you’re a publicist, like I am, it really does make sense to keep records of your conversations by email (rather than phone). Email is efficient, it’s time-saving, it’s a cheaper form of communication than long distance if you use land lines…

But. I am concerned that somewhere along the way, this relatively brief time in my life, dealing with a relatively mean client, bypassed the “light tendency” part of my brain and festered in the “Pavlovian response” part of my brain, causing me to freak out a little bit when I hear ANY PHONE. It always passes quickly, like a static shock, but it’s a five-second jolt of: “shit. Oh no! What do I do? PANIC!!”

And then, I force myself to pick up. And a lovely conversation usually follows.

How does one fix such a silly mental ailment? Is anyone else out there a little bit scared of the phone?

I remember laying in bed when I was 16, and talking for hours on the phone at night. To friends. To boyfriends. Whoever. The internet had just gotten up and running, but was still too rudimentary to do anything besides read the AOL homepage. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 20, so these intimate, high school conversations weren’t happening in the privacy of my car, either – I was talking about God knows what in my bedroom, which is literally three steps away from my parents’ bedroom. It’s funny to me, because we’re all so concerned about privacy these days. And yet, I feel my life has only gotten a lot more isolated, more insular, the more digital it’s become.

“Hi, baby,” said Ross earlier, when he called yesterday. As you may recall, he is currently a million miles away, gone for months.

“Hi!!!!!” I responded. I shot my hand up into the air, an involuntary jazz hand of excitement.

“What are you doing?”

I drank in his voice, giddy just to hear him talk. We spoke for about 45 minutes, him telling me about the jungle, me holding up the cat to the phone, and pulling her tail to make her meow. I told him I was at my parents’ house, he told me it was hot, extremely hot, where he was.

It was better than the best email.