Monthly Archives: August 2015

Why don’t we talk on the phone any more?

In the early 1980s, my dad, brother and I would watch Doctor Who, religiously, every Saturday afternoon.

(Religiously is perhaps the wrong word, because being Jewish, we shouldn’t have been watching TV at all on a Saturday afternoon. But anyway…)

My dad would sit in his special armchair, with me aged seven or so on his knee, and my big brother squashed in beside us. This was a good set-up as it made sure we were well protected from the Daleks and any other aliens who might wish the Doctor ill.

One day, though, we were out on Saturday afternoon, and we realised that we hadn’t remembered to video that day’s episode. My mum was at home but – disaster – we didn’t have any cash to phone her. What to do?

You remember how it was with red telephone boxes… you didn’t have to put your money in till the person at the other end answered? You’d hear ‘Hello!’ and then you’d put push in your 5p.

So, we dialled our home number, and when my mum said ‘Hello?’ we simultaneously shouted ‘DOCTOR WHO!’ before we were cut off.

Just to be sure, we phoned again.

‘Hello?’ said my mum, sounding a little bemused this time. ‘DOCTOR WHO!’ we shouted over her.

The third time, her ‘Hello’ was starting to sound slightly hysterical…

It worked, though. When we got home, my long-suffering mother had understood the message and duly recorded the episode.

None of which has got anything to do with why we don’t talk on the phone any more – it was just a quirky story about telephones.

The thing is, I think if you’d said to us that day:

‘In the future, everyone is going to carry tiny rectangular computers in their pocket. If they want to communicate with someone they’ll be able to choose either to:

a) dial their number and talk
or
b) type a message to them on a miniature keyboard and wait for them to reply…’

…and if you’d then asked us which method people were likely to choose more often, I’m pretty certain we would have answered ‘a)’.

We would possibly have added, ‘Derrrr’… except I don’t think that sound had been invented at the time.

But we would, of course, have been wrong.

So why do people (including myself) treat most phonecalls as stressful, intrusive and unnecessary? I really don’t get it. And yet, I really do embrace it.

The other day at work, I needed to contact the IT department. Being reasonably new to the company, I asked a colleague how to do so.

She helpfully picked up my phone, dialled IT’s extension, then handed me the receiver, leaving me in a state of panic.

‘Oh my god. She’s expecting me to talk to them? I didn’t want their phone number – I wanted their email address! This is sheer madness!’

Luckily, the IT department clearly felt the same way, because the call went to voicemail and I was able to put the receiver down (without actually leaving a message, obviously), find out their email address and write to them instead – like any sensible person.

It only took them 24 hours to get back to me. What more could you ask for?

*******

So, do you dislike using the phone, and why?

Or do you love doing so, and hate that no one picks up any more? 

Please let me know in the comments section.

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The Perils of Sarcasm

As anyone familiar with Ray from the Mary Whitehouse Experience will know, the propensity to be sarcastic can get you into all sorts of trouble. Ray is the man cursed with a sarcastic tone of voice. You can watch him here.

"What a personal disaster."

“What a personal disaster.”

When I was at university – it was in the early days of email – an Australian friend sent me a message to say that he’d heard that a rare type of walrus had been sighted off the coast of the UK and had I seen any? He was, he explained, a walrus enthusiast.

I replied that while I hadn’t seen any walruses, if I happened to spot one while walking through Cambridge I’d be sure to let him know.

“Thanks – that would be great,” he replied.

He then signed me up to a walrus aficionados’ e-newsletter.

I quite enjoyed reading it, actually. It was a little window into a world I would ordinarily never have known existed.

Of course, it’s well known that it’s really difficult to convey tone of voice in an email, and you therefore have to be extra careful what you say. I’m not good at taking heed of this. The problem is, I also run into trouble when talking to people face to face – particularly strangers.

My husband Anthony suffers from the same problem. A few years ago we were in the Lake District with our four-month-old baby. (This was the same trip on which we acquired All Terrain Pushchair Walks, South Lakeland – click here to read more about that.) Out on a walk, our son began screaming hysterically in his pushchair.

A passing lady said in consternation,
“Gosh, he doesn’t look very happy, does he?”
“That’s because he’s starved of affection,” Anthony replied.
“Oh dear!” said the lady, clearly alarmed, and scuttled off looking as if she were about to call social services.

Having failed to learn from this encounter, I make sarcastic comments to strangers all the time. I imagine I’m being funny.

Given that sarcasm tends to consist of saying the exact opposite of what you really think, if the person you’re talking to doesn’t realise that you’re being sarcastic, it is excruciating. The chances are you’ll come out of the encounter looking stupid or crazy, or quite possibly both.

And yet… it’s difficult to give it up because sometimes – just sometimes – the stranger I’m talking to gets the joke and laughs. And so my comment allows us to make an immediate, genuine connection that no amount of small talk can create.

It is almost never worth trying to dig your way out of these situations by explaining yourself. That just leads to embarrassment all round. I tend to just swallow the misunderstanding, grit my teeth, and accept that this person now thinks I’m socially or intellectually deficient.

Perhaps the answer is to carry a sarcasm sign around with me, like Leonard does for Sheldon’s benefit in the Big Bang Theory.

Leonard

If I hold it up whenever I’m being sarcastic, I’m sure that will solve all my problems.

NOT!!!!!
😉 😉 😉

*******

Have you ever found yourself in trouble due to being sarcastic? Or do you hate it when other people are? Do let me know in the comments.

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