I am afraid of the telephone.
Not the actual phone. Not my smartphone, anyway. It is an appendage, as much a part of me as the mascara I rarely wash completely off of my eyelashes. Like skin. The smartphone is a lifeline to a world I am an active part of – Facebook, Pinterest, email…the internet in general. Information. I need to be connected.
But that function that the phone was originally intended for, oral communication, over distances, terrifies me.
I don’t know when this started. Certainly not when I was a teenager. My parents got me my own phone line when I was about thirteen, a number that only rang in my room. Independence. Freedom. It was a grand gesture of trust, one that probably did wonders for them with me down the road. But I lived on that thing. Slept with it cradled under my ear, falling asleep to the raspy breathing of boyfriends. Idling away afternoons gossiping about things that mattered, really mattered, at the time. Crushes. Social conspiracies. TV plotlines.
But then I grew up. I went to University. I worked two jobs on top of rigorous study and time became this luxury, as they say, without me noticing the dramatic change occur. Talking on the phone became a practical activity meant for quickly distributing information and, on Sundays, catching up with the parents.
And then it got worse. I moved away. And not just away. I moved to Korea.
The land of the backlit screen. The land of texting the person sitting beside you on the bus. You know, instead of looking them in the eye. Instead of talking.
I got a phone the day after I landed. By the time my parents came to visit me, my nose was buried in that screen the majority of the time they were sitting across from me at the table. They didn’t appreciate it, and I don’t blame them. But they also didn’t understand.
We acclimatize to things. We adapt.
So I came home and things were strange. I hadn’t spoken to my friends, really spoken to them, in years. Instant messages, yes. We were all caught up, so to speak. I was on top of their general stories. So what was there to say? In person?!
Once a social butterfly incapable of spending an evening away from friends, I was exhibiting the first signs of what would be years of social anxieties I never thought possible.
One baby under the belt later, and it can almost paralyze me.
My husband always says, “I don’t get it. You’re great on the phone.” That might be true. Because the truth is I love talking to people. The feeling I get after a great conversation is one of elation, of renewed excitement at the joy that comes from connecting to people. And I miss my friends, the ones I would spend hours with talking deep into the night. When we had the time and space together to idle away conversations. Not to plow through the particulars, the important details of life, before having to “get back to it”. Bills and babies and dinner and all that.
This week has been emotional for me, and I couldn’t have made it through without the support of those people that, despite my neglect over these years at picking up the damn phone, love me anyway. I should have snuggled up to the receiver and welcomed in the warm words of those people. But I didn’t. Not enough. I hid away. Which is fair, sometimes. Sometimes we need to process. But it would have done me some good, I know it.
I know I’m not alone. In one way or another, we all hide behind our screens. It’s safer there. We can be a little more anonymous, a little less responsible for ourselves. If we can’t answer something, we can come back to it later. Think about things. Or run away entirely – later say that the phone rang (how ironic) or that someone came to the door.
It’s reality now, relationships through a keyboard. It takes real hard work, sometimes, to get beyond it. Carve out the time. And the guts. To get real.
To those of you I neglect so often, I’m sorry. I truly am. It is a privilege to have friends like I have, and I don’t do my part to nurture that. But I acknowledge this, and that’s the first step.
I know a few people who, miraculously, have still somehow managed to avoid purchasing a smartphone. It baffles me. But part of me is envious. Stay in that blissful naivety as long as humanly possible, friends. Because we drift, quickly, and it isn’t so easy to get back.