The death of the phone call

Calling somebody on the phone used to be a perfectly ordinary thing to do. You called people you knew well, not so well, or not at all, and never gave it a second thought. But after the Great Texting Shift of 2007, a phone call became a claim of intimacy. Today if I want to phone someone just to chat, I first have to consider whether the call will be viewed as intrusive. My method is to ask myself, “Have I ever seen this person in the nude?” The sighting doesn’t have to be (indeed, seldom is) recent. Nor is it necessary that I remember it. I need only deduce that, sometime or other, I must have seen this person naked. That clears phone calls to a wife or girlfriend, to children, to parents, to siblings, to old flames, to former roommates from college, and very few others.

I make exceptions to the naked rule now and then, but always with trepidation, because when a friend you’ve never seen naked sees your name pop up on his smartphone he’s liable to think you lack boundaries. If you aren’t on this never-naked person’s contacts list, forget about connecting at all. Nobody answers a cellphone that blinks an unfamiliar phone number, and nobody has the patience to listen to voice mail. (The final voice mail that anybody actually heard was recorded sometime around 2009.)

With business calls, prevailing etiquette isn’t all that different. If you know somebody pretty well in the business sense (the threshold here being not “have I seen this person naked?” but “have I ever seen this person across a lunch table?”) you may phone with some confidence that the party will pick up. If not, you’ll have to leave a message and enter a ghastly limbo that requires a formal appointment. To talk on the phone! If you’re a journalist like me, appointment phone calls are a dreary ritual in which you’re put on speakerphone and a press spokesperson sits in to eliminate the possibility that anything of the slightest interest will be said.