Death of a telephone

I recently conducted an experiment to see how long I could go without making a phone call. This was not a pursuit of pure science: Just before Christmas, my phone died.

The experiment occurred to me because A) I rarely make voice calls anymore, and B) Generally speaking, I would rather set my hair on fire and put it out with Axe Body Spray (the only thing known to smell worse than burning hair) than talk on the phone. If I had to name the single greatest invention of the 20th century, I’d probably go with Caller ID.

The weird thing is, my “phone,” which is more of a pocket Internet than a telephone, worked fine, other than the actual phone part. Everything else worked — texting, browser, music, YouTube, apps, search, maps, the interactive dim sum carryout menu at Oriental House — but when I tried to make or receive a call, I got instead a loud buzzing reprimand. Was my smartphone so intuitive it actually learned which of its functions I despised most and ceased providing it? I knew that wasn’t it because Facebook still worked.

Alas, it was Christmas week and I couldn’t face the inevitable torture of venturing out to get my phone fixed or replaced, so I decided to conduct my little experiment instead. I figured I could borrow someone else’s phone in an emergency, and if anybody called me, I could text back and explain my predicament. Only guess what? Nobody called.

Some history: After a traumatic and invasive robo-call from Sarah Palin during the last presidential election season, my wife and I cancelled our landline. It was not a tough decision. Neither of us had used it in years, and we only kept it because Insight at the time was bribing us with an essentially free service we didn’t want or need. Meanwhile, thanks to texting, social networking and email, all of the world’s communication seems to come now through our fingertips instead of our pieholes (conveniently leaving more bandwidth for pie consumption).

For a person like me, who makes his living writing, thinking through the fingertips is not only a very natural experience, it’s quickly becoming the only way I can communicate. Here’s how bad it is: My sister and I, who are generally non-confrontational in person, often jokingly commiserate during moments of conflict about rushing back to our keyboards so we can administer the ass-kicking the offending party so richly deserves. Until then, we can only smile and nod.

I would like to point out that I did not start this trend. My friends, who are mostly writers, editors and artists who would rather type their demands than grunt them, all seem to prefer text or email. My kids, who were practically born texting, never call. I am far more likely to order carryout, flirt with my wife or buy a car (literally — I bought my car on the Internet) via text than voice. If I had to call you and tell you all this stuff instead of writing it down, I doubt I could even do it.

I wondered about my past habits, so I looked though my old calls, which are conveniently logged on my phone. For the past few months, I’ve averaged eight calls per month, rarely going more than 30 seconds. Texts and emails, however, averaged infinity.

Just to make sure this isn’t all about me being a cranky, old crabapple, I did some brief research and found out that texting surpassed calling in the United States — in 2008!

Then I stopped searching, because I started finding snarky blogs about the phenomenon — from 2009! So I’m not a trendsetter. And how could I be? I’m writing this for a print publication, which is the only thing known to be dying faster than phone calls.

Meanwhile, most young people have never heard a dial tone or gone more than a week without seeing a classmate’s sexted genitalia, according to a statistic I just totally made up but is probably true. The texting and social networking trends even have some psychologists concerned that we humans will lose our interpersonal skills and ability to express emotion, which is obviously A TOTAL LOAD OF CRAP!

And I’m now on day 21 without using voice, and I’ve barely missed it at all. By the time you read this, I’ll have my new “phone.” I wonder how long it’ll take me to make an actual call.