Do-Not-Call List

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

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.

6 thoughts on “Do-Not-Call List”

  1. Hmmmm…. and you’re supposedly an *E*NFP. I thought it was because I was an introvert (INFP, by the by), that I hated the phone. I pay for a little Caller-ID machine just so I know who it is I’m not going to talk to anyway. But I don’t like telemarketers, either. Thank god for email.


  2. Turns out I’m a fake ENFP. Just 1% extroverted, or something extremely precise like that. Accounts for my contentment on a small island, I think.


  3. As another INFP, I was wondering about that!

    I’ve always had difficulty with the phone, even though I delight in email or talking in person. There’s something very demanding about the phone in terms of performance. It has to do with coming up with the right things to say on the spot, but also with the lack of nonverbal communication which seems somehow to cut the communication in half. Written communication doesn’t bother me by its lack, I suppose because people tend to be a bit more careful in what they say when writing?


  4. I hate, hate, hate the phone . . . unless the caller is someone I love, which it almost never is. I often screen calls at home, a habit encouraged by the fact that a good 3/4 of the calls there are either hang-ups or calls from people trying to reach Brooklyn Family Court. The latter leave the most interesting messages.

    Unfortunately, at work there is no receptionist, there are no direct extensions, there’s only one voice-mail box, and half the phones can only pick up certain lines (mine, of course, works fine for all of them). Supposedly we all answer the phone, which in practice means that whoever most hates the sound of ringing answers it most. That person seems to be me. Every time it rings, I grit my teeth and count. If it hits the third ring and everyone else is still playing deaf, I have to go for it, otherwise the voice-mail kicks in and callers assume we’re, well, about as flaky as we actually are. Ah, anarchists.


  5. My sister is the same (and another borderline I/ENFP, just to annoy Eli, who is sceptical about my Myers-Briggs nonsense). Moose, I think you’re right about the performance anxiety. I can’t seem to remember anything people tell me on the phone, though I can retain long chunks of live conversation.

    And India–my horror of picking up the phone is only outweighed by my instinct to give in in a phone-ringing stand-off. I think evolution will weed me out of the genepool for that alone.


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