I confess to being one of those people who never answers the phone. 

On mobile, I’ve always set my ringer to silent mode. And it’s been years since I kept a landline in the house. Most of the calls I received were automated messages or spam anyway, so I gradually just stopped picking up.

Like millions of others, I’d grown accustomed to communicating at a distance via email, or messaging apps, or workplace collaboration platforms like Slack.

For me, actually speaking to someone on the telephone was generally reserved for emergencies or those rare circumstances when all other mediums wouldn’t work.

But as an anomalous cluster of viral illness in a far-off city morphed into a global pandemic threatening everyone everywhere…well, things changed. 

Daily life is dramatically different for the time being, and so is my relationship with the telephone.

woman smiling on phone
Image courtesy of toptenalternatives.co/ CC 2.0.

Life at a distance

To slow Covid-19 spread in my community, and pretty much every other place on the planet, physically distancing ourselves from other people is now a life-or-death civic responsibility.

Beyond healthcare and some essential services, the conduct of normal affairs has come to a necessary halt in my neighborhood. 

Offices are shuttered, roadways are deserted, schools are closed, and many people are working from home (if they’re fortunate enough to continue working). Practicing new habits to reduce contact with other humans has resulted in a surreal and pervasive quieting. Business continues, but it’s anything but usual.

And I’ve been shocked by how quickly I came to miss the presence of people. Even though I’m grateful for my spouse and kids and pets, I still find myself longing for company. 

Gone is the distant early morning hum of commuter traffic and the afternoon cacophony of children flooding into the streets when school lets out. As are those water-cooler conversations with the gang at work, random chitchat at the coffee shop, gossipy gatherings with girlfriends, and bustling Sunday mornings with what seems like the whole town at the weekly Farmer’s Market.

It has only been a few weeks and I know it won’t last forever, but I already feel the absence of community. 

Making connections

Under such conditions, chatting on the phone has become a welcome pleasure. 

Scanning social media for status updates and funny posts from my nearest and dearest is all fine and good, but it’s not the same as actually talking with people. Lately I’ve been dialing up at least one friend a day just to gab for a few minutes. I love when my mother rings even if it’s only to hear about what her cats are up to. Work issues ordinarily handled via email are now reflexive reasons to hop on the phone with colleagues because I miss hearing their voices. 

Telephone conversation is the next best thing to actually being together. It’s less scripted than email and more extemporaneous than texting. In lieu of physical presence, it’s the most emotionally satisfying way to connect with one another.

I extend my new affinity for the telephone to FaceTiming, Skyping, Zooming, and general video-chatting in all of its forms — such tools supply an extra element of companionship to “together-apart” gatherings of family and friends. 

At my place of work, we’ve been heavily utilizing our remote web-conferencing tools for more sociable client communications. But we’ve also been using these tools to maintain fellowship amongst ourselves. For example, in addition to logging into business meetings, we now use web conferencing to participate in weekly virtual happy hours so we can all see and hear each other and enjoy a bit of our customary camaraderie. It’s a silly standing date, but I’m already looking forward to the next one. 

Sterling communications virtual happy hour
Image courtesy of Sterling Communications.

Staying in touch

Everyone I know is wrestling to find their way in adjusting to life under pandemic conditions. Picking up the phone is one way I’m easing the sense of isolation.

I still hate robocalls. I’ll always favor face-to-face conversation. I presume I’ll revert to more email and messaging when the crisis abates. 

But for now, the phone is the best way to dial-up the sense of community I’m missing. I’ve rediscovered its power to convey human presence. 

And today, when someone calls, I’ll answer.