Sometimes I wonder what I would have been like had I been born in another time.
For instance, if I’d been born in the 16th century or somewhere thereabouts, my pasty skin and larger figure would be fawned over by men everywhere because it would indicate I was rich and attractive rather than lazy and…well, pasty.
If I’d been a teenager in the 80’s, my frizzy hair would be the envy of men and women alike. I would be teasing up a storm instead of hiding it under a mountain of mousse.
And had I been born anywhere before the twentieth century, I would not have to use the terrifying contraption that is the telephone.
Don’t get me wrong. I love modern technology. A world without video games and google maps is a cold and depressing scenario that I hope never to experience.
But for a high functioning socially-anxious nervous wreck such as myself, this nefarious contraption represents the worst of my social fears. I can’t help but wonder if I would be a calmer person were I to live in a world where it did not exist.
Oh, you may think that I would be nervous regardless, and yes, that may be true. Social interaction of any sort does tend to put my stomach in knots and even in a world without a telephone I would still have to face the obstacle of face to face interaction.
But do you know the major difference between face to face conversation and a phone conversation? In a phone conversation you can’t see ANY REACTIONS.
Do you know how much of the social cues we pick up is based on visual interaction? A lot.
Someone smiles? They like Zelda as much as you do.
A raised eyebrow? They’re judging you for your love of nutella.
They roll their eyes? They’re obviously tired of hearing about Hugh Jackman.
I’m not socially clueless. I can pick up on these visual clues quickly, and accordingly encourage more conversation, or shift it, or stop talking about a topic altogether. Except for Hugh Jackman.
But on a phone? The only cue I have to read is someone’s voice. And voices can lie. I have no visual indication as to whether someone is actually interested in what I’m saying. For all I know, they could be making a face.
Or making a hand puppet mocking me.
Or just left the phone entirely to go do something more fun.
I have no clue! It’s terrifying! Without that visual aid, I am lost. What is my next step? Do I keep talking? Do I change topics? Do I hang up? Why is it quiet now? Did I offend them? Do they think I’m boring? Are they basking in my glory? I don’t know because I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING!
Okay, I’m not completely hopeless. Much like hugs, receiving phone calls I don’t have too much problem with. Someone calling you indicates that they already want to talk to you. And the glorious invention of call waiting at the very least gives me a moment to prepare for whoever is on the other end.
Initiating phone calls though is something I avoid at all costs. And driving a conversation? You might as well be asking me to try punching a shark for funsies.
You would think in this wonderful world of e-mail and texting that I would never have to worry about a phone conversation at all. But no, there are those people that still prefer this dumb, archaic method of communication over the calm, soothing text message.
My job unfortunately requires me to make many phone calls. I try to get out of it. I try to handle things my own way. But eventually it will always catch up with me:
Client: Did you contact this person?
Me: Yes, I sent them an e-mail.
Client: Did they respond?
Me: Oh, no, not yet…
Client: Can you call them then?
Me:…I could send another e-mail.
Client: Just call them.
Me: I’m sure they’re going to respond soon.
Client: I need a response now. Call them.
Me:…How about five more minutes?
I have a ritual now to prepare myself for a phone call. I will take a deep breath. I will stare at the phone. I will consider carefully what I am going to say. I will take another breath. I will change what I want to say. My palms will get sweaty. My chest will tighten. I will dial the number, slowly. I will listen to the rings. I will pray, out loud, for voice mail.
If someone answers, I will attempt to tear off the band-aid of human interaction, procure the information I require as quickly as possible and hang up before an awkward silence ensues.
But sometimes it’s a friend I am calling or who is calling me, and of course the discussion must go further than “Hello, how are you? Not dead? Good, until we meet in person then”.
Again, it’s not so bad if someone drives the conversation. I am quite happy to simply listen or respond to questions. I’ve learned that if I ask the right question, the response will be long and detailed and the task of “talking” will no longer be mine. And for the most part, all of my friends are open to this.
You know who doesn’t, though? Errol. Errol, who is expert at taking over a conversation loves nothing more than to make me lead it.
I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit. I will ask him a question. He will give a one word answer. And then the silence will come. That awkward, deafening silence that he leaves up to ME to fill.
Desperately, I will ask another question. I’ll mention Totoro or shawarma. I will say ANYTHING to try and trigger the Errol monologue we all know and love. I will even go so far as to tell him to talk. Does he take any of the bait? No. He sits there, silent, waiting for me to awkwardly stumble on words for his amusement. He knows I hate it. He knows I’m panicking. But the most he’ll say is “you’re doing fine” and then go back to silence, revelling in my discomfort.
Until humans evolve to the point that we develop telepathy, it seems I am stuck with this infuriating invention. Why people still insist on depending on it I will never know. What I do know is that if The Ring is any indication, one day the phone will kill us all. Beware…