The phone is back in my life after an 18-month absence. There is, for a few weeks at least, a private number on which people can reach me, though I guard the secret combination neurotically.
Do other people fear the phone as much as me? Most functioning adults I know seems to answer it crisply without a descent into _uh-oh-I’m-busted_ dread. I like to talk, and I love drop-in guests, but can’t bear the uncertainty of an incoming call. It interrupts as no other communication does, and I feel tethered even on a cordless handset. I resent the way this shrill gizmo takes precedence over physical presence, the way phoneophiles cut you off in mid-sentence to answer the baby on the second ring. Two years ago, when Dublin’s love-affair with the meauboile phone was at its height, my sister and I listened unwillingly as four Southside princesses at the next table yapped the whole way through dinner to guests who weren’t there.
I’m not sure what it is that I fear about the phone. Some giant, disembodied, furious authority figure? An impossible project request that I can’t refuse? Some aggrieved soul I promised to call six months ago? Whatever causes this dread, it is powerful enough for me not to pick up unless I’m expecting a benign call. I may be the only person in North America who is relieved when it’s a telemarketer, on whom I can hang up without guilt.
I spent hours on the phone as a teenager. When I had a job I discharged my phone duty without fuss–it’s easier when you’re paid to–and my industry was civilised enough to rely mostly on email anyhow. I can cope with, and even enjoy, long calls from close friends and my family, particularly if they’ve pandered to my phobia by setting a time in advance. The pleasure I take in these chats may even be heightened by the relief that it is not, in fact, some giant, disembodied authority figure ready to yell at me or give me an impossible task.
But that’s about it. I’ll spend an hour online tracking down information rather than making a two-minute phonecall. I’ll wait days for an email response rather than actually lifting the damn phone. I cheer when I reach voicemail instead of a human. When I’m forced to do business by phone these days, I hear my own creepy, over-polite voice and forget what I wanted to ask.
Avoidant. It’s beginning to make sense that I would end up in a log cabin on a desert island.