I do an average of 1–2 speaking engagements/book signings per month and usually receive 2–3 entreaties following each show. (Although I teach classes about human consciousness, since pedagogy has devolved into infotainment I refer to my interactive lectures as “shows” because I use jokes, magic and mentalisms to elucidate the foibles of perception.) Once in a while some brave and/or desperate soul will use the ancient device known as a telephone to call me following a show. After s/he guffaws, mumbles “Oh, I was expecting a machine,” and then orally introduces himself or herself, I ask excitedly, “How can I help you?”
S/he replies, “I would like to meet with you.”
“Absolutely!” I respond and then we determine if we should meet in my office for a professional counseling session or at a cafe for a social visit. Easy peasy.
However… of late, I have had a multitude of unfathomable interactions via the Internet that are conspicuous. Maybe you have experienced this too? They go something like this: I receive a Facebook or LinkedIn message or Instagram DM from a stranger asking to meet. I reply “Absolutely! Please call me at 310–430–5150 to schedule a time and place. Thanks for reaching out!”
Then the person writes back giving me his or her telephone number and asking me to call him or her.
How is it that someone is unafraid to send an unsolicited written message via the Internet requesting a meeting but too afraid to pick up the phone to schedule the meeting s/he is requesting? WTF?
Here’s what I think is the problem: CALLER ID.
Caller ID has made cowards of us all.
Caller ID is the worst thing to happen since herpes. Having a phone call DECLINED is like painfully discovering a new pimple in a highly sensitive area — both confirm our deepest fears that we are essentially unlovable.
Caller ID exacerbates our fears of rejection and activates our fears of abandonment and betrayal. Patiently listening to those 7 or 8 rings before being sent to the purgatory of voicemail when you are 100% sure (or at least convinced) that the person is looking at his phone contemplating whether or not you are worthy of a conversation. It’s like being nominated for an Academy Award, attending the ceremony and watching Warren Beatty say, “And the winner is… the other guy!” Or worse, feeling the person you called swipe DECLINE after one or two rings — that’s like not even being nominated! The horror, the horror!
I don’t know what your part of the earth is like, but Los Angeles is egregiously hierarchical and everyone is continuously trying to claw her way to the top one Prius or Tesla or Louis Vuitton shopping bag at a time. Los Angeles is literally rife with arrivistes. Social status games abound. There’s a pecking order for everything here.
I live amidst a rarified community of professional hypocrites, liars, phonies, and charlatans — undereducated narcissists who don’t answer their telephones and don’t reply to emails because they believe that they are celebrities. Darling, going to an actor’s McMansion at 6am to teach him yoga does not make you a “Public Figure.” Celebrity does not occur by osmosis. You’re not a Public Figure; you’re a notch or two below entourage. You’re not a visionary; you’re the fucking help. Period.
Which is why everyone pretends to be “crazybusy” until someone ABOVE them on the perceived food chain them reaches out, reaches down to them. You wouldn’t be too crazybusy to answer your phone if Oprah Winfrey were calling — would ya now, babygirl? Unless the other person has more Instagram or Youtube followers, unless he or she is an award-winning musician or filmmaker, unless he or she (recently) has been a guest on a late night television show or a Top 10 podcast… don’t expect anyone to actually converse with you on the telephone unless they can hear “ca-ching” in the background. Gross.
I remember driving to dinner with a formally famous actor in 1998. His agent’s assistant called asking if the actor was available for a phone call but then the connection dropped because the agent was driving through the Hollywood Hills. The assistant came back on the line and apologized stating that the agent would call back at some future time. The actor turned to me and said, “When an agent returns your call as he’s driving home from work you know that you’re the lowest priority in his life next to taking a shit.” Semiotics. Not only is the medium the message, timing also tells you a thing or two.
Remember when a phone call used to be a gift, a present? Remember when the telephone would ring in a home in the 1960s or 1970s and everyone would run in wonder and amazement towards that horrible Pavlovian bell?
Every writer knows that receiving a letter in the mail can only be a rejection. If somebody wants your work then s/he will call you. Is something like that now happening to telephone calls? Has texting trumped calling? And when 95% of information communicated is non-verbal is texting any more efficient than smoke signals, Morse code or hieroglyphics? Do you have any idea how many patients I have treated who have broken up with partners because of misinterpreted text messages? It’s insane. What is now considered to be “normal” for communications — Twitter, for example —should literally be considered to be insane.
So what is happening when someone reaches out by text, DM, IM or email but does not dare to call us? What does it mean that this revolutionary communication device has become anathema in less than 150 years?
And what is all this foreplay, all this hiding behind the Internet in fear of rejection? My patients report that the majority of people who “LIKE” them on dating apps never actually want to meet IRL (that’s “In Real Life,” for you non-millenials and non-Gen Zers). Poof! Is there a little surge of dopamine, a little release of endorphins when you reject a total stranger by ghosting him or her? Does nobody realize how inhumane these constant tacit judgments are?
Have we forgotten how to relate face-to-face with other people? Do we need to hide behind little screens and earbuds to feel powerful?
Personally I believe this is how impotent, fear-based, insecurely-attached impostors delude themselves into brief simulacrums of potency, by declining calls and ghosting people via their mobile phones.
Want to be really strong, powerful?
Pick up the telephone. Schedule a face-to-face meeting. Show up. Even better, show up on time. Make eye contact. Be authentic. Be vulnerable. Smile. Listen compassionately. Connect with a fellow human. Give a hug.
One hug equals one million electronic messages.