A good friend of mine called today and I was moody.
I told her it had nothing to do with her. And it hadn’t. I just hate phones. They supposedly establish connections, tighten ties, relate to people via direct lines, but this closeness is a maddening illusion. If the phone is useful for anything, it’s to demonstrate that the person you’re talking to is conspicuously absent, nothing more than a disembodied voice that may or may not have been emitted from someone real.
And there is this: I am a writer. I bear what I say much better when I’ve been given time to express myself clearly, in solitude. I care about nuance and precision. Each time I hear myself utter a platitude on the phone, I cringe. TALK LESS & LISTEN MORE is my phone motto. But the people I talk to are often kind and not very self-obsessed so they usually turn the conversation around. Tell me what’s going on in your life, they say.
When I speak to others in person, I have my entire face to work with. I use my eyes to complement my words. And I read my interlocutor’s face, which will tell me whether I’m causing confusion or have made myself understood. The same goes when I address an audience. I use body postures and hand gestures to express myself, and the audience’s feedback (in laughter, chattering, or applause) is immediate.
After an awkward voice-alone phone call, I always hope that the person I talked to understands that I care about them and want to know how they are and would love to see them again—soon—but that I’m just not very good on the phone.