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The telephone has been a staple of Western civilization for over 100 years, enabling people to remotely hear others chewing and breathing too heavily for as long as we can remember. It lets us treat our friends like marginally entertaining podcasts to distract us while doing dishes or quietly peeing.

But there are many between the ages of 18 and 35 for whom the idea of hopping on a phone call is about as scary as being trapped in a telephone booth underwater. And if the only way to survive that highly unlikely scenario were to answer the ringing phone, they might die.

When a phone rings, some see it only as an ominous red phone casting a vampire-like shadow on the wall, an invasion from the outside world that has breached one’s delicate oasis, ringing and vibrating with sheer terror.

Who could it be? What do they want? And will I have to talk? The possibilities are too frightening to even consider.

Fear of the Unknown

Many never answer such a call for fear of the unknown, and if they happen to know the person who did call, will meekly text something like, “Missed your call, what’s up?”

To dispense with the obvious, some understandably don’t answer the phone due to a cavalcade of spam calls, some calls are unnecessarily time-consuming and the info can better be communicated through text or email, and sometimes people who enjoy talking on the phone too much — mothers, bosses, that one friend who whines about their life — tend to use it as a forum for awkwardly drawn-out, way too personal, critique-laden conversations.

So much of that hesitation makes a modicum of sense. Still, this fear I’m addressing goes beyond all that, and many are afraid even if the incoming phone call is totally innocent. A recent survey, by no means the first of its kind, found that 81% of millennials get apprehension anxiety before taking the leap and making a phone call.

But I didn’t need a survey to tell me that, as it’s been my experience with many around my age and younger for years. What in the name of Alexander Graham Bell is going on here?

It’s Always a Bad Time

millennials phone calls
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You see, when talking on the phone instead of texting, a person typically has to respond live and may not be mentally prepared enough to put a carefully-worded response together, a prospect which is even more difficult when talking to someone you don’t know.

In a world replete with emails and Tweets and instant messages over-saturating our devices with pleading notifications, the phone call feels for many like an arrow hurtling through the boundary and buffer such forms of communication normally afford us.

Toward that end, phone calls become viewed as some form of entitlement, as if the person calling you is demanding your sacred time immediately, as opposed to, say, just wanting to chat. To call many in the current generation is to infringe on their schedule and disrupt their emotional state. Who in the hell do you think you are, buddy?

Many of this ilk see the phone call as something best reserved for urgent and serious issues, which is fine, but I’d argue that line of thinking is solipsistic in nature. Those kinds of emergency, demanding calls are rare, and when you think that’s what phone calls should be reserved for, you tend to see them all that way.

Granted, many are not at all like this, and none of the above is to suggest that most in this age range are cowering behind their sofa, texting and chatting, and never going outside where human beings are. People clearly still meet for coffee and hop on Zoom and all the usual social crap.

You’ll Be Ok if You Pick Up

But the phone call, properly executed and timed, is meant to negotiate that line when those other options are unavailable, and even if lacking visual cues, provides a different kind of intimacy and familiarity, a theater of the mind, if you will. And I’m not just saying that because I have a great low voice.

So if the phone starts ringing in front of you, even if you know the person or not, put on an oven mitt, grab a baseball bat in your free hand, and try picking it up. It will give you more strength to deal with other scary unknowns out there, like someone knocking on the door.

Besides, you can always respond with one of the great pleasures in life: hanging up.

Profile Photo for Chason Gordon Chason Gordon
Chason Gordon is a former staff writer and editor for How-To Geek. His writing has previously appeared in Slate, Vice, Input, and The Globe and Mail, among other publications.
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