In the age of Trump, is making phone calls still scary AF?

Be honest.

How common is it to have sex with someone before you talk to them on the phone?

In my experience, text messages (the volume of which varies from person to person) are the prelude and follow-up to promising first dates. If a couple dates go well (depending on your preferences), you may end up in bed with your new paramour, but you still may go weeks without putting the phone to your ear for them. (No, calling them to tell them you’re outside, or vice versa, instead of knocking or buzzing their apartment, doesn’t count.)

The next step is the preapproved/scheduled phone call: If your fingers get worn out (on the phone, I mean) you might ask if it’s ok to call, or if there’s something you want to speak about instead of texting, you might pin down a time that you’re going to dial them up.

Later, you move on to the most intimate ground yet: the spontaneous phone call.

Your partner calls you without warning, and you don’t think oh god what’s wrong or geez should I answer? You just pick it up and talk awhile.

Given the attitude a lot of people seem to have about phone calls, it’s a significant stage of the relationship.

Because face it—my generation has gone from a bunch of kids who could call our friends’ houses and ask their mom or dad if they were home without a turning a hair, to people who seem to see a phone call as some kind of intrusive last resort.

Some people have a genuine kind of social anxiety that means getting on the phone makes their heart pound. But I don’t think everyone who’s avoiding phone calls these days can claim that.

I don’t know how often, in the course of my work as an editor, I need to encourage a writer to pick up the phone to obtain some outstanding piece of information or clarification, or do it myself because someone else’s word on the matter is that they e-mailed and didn’t hear back.

Or how often I make a work-related phone call and get no answer, only to get an e-mail from the recipient within moments—or, if the person picks up, they often quickly ask if they can e-mail me instead.

I understand the convenience of typing the conversation on your own time instead of speaking it, not to mention the frequent benefit of having the exchange preserved in an e-mail thread you can refer to later. But our general reluctance to make and take phone calls, versus other kinds of written messages, and the phone fears I’ve heard from many of my peers and younger professionals, make me believe that in the year 2016, picking up the phone, whether it’s for a lover or a colleague, is scary as fuck.

The Mary Sue got me thinking about this in its article recommending that readers engage with a phone survey about the Affordable Care Act, administered through House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office.

“Luckily for those of us who have social anxiety, there won’t be a human being on the other end. It’s a robot conducting the survey,” the article says of why the call is easy to make.

It concerns me a bit.

Not because I think phone calls, in themselves, are the important thing. I’m not really interested in lecturing Millennials about evidence of declining phone skills, like they’ll be better off getting back to the 20th century’s preferred method of remote communication just because. I’d rather look at the bigger implications of this for everybody in light of the next several years.

The last several weeks of American politics have proven that for people who don’t think our country’s future lies in a frank new proliferation of virulent bigotry and white supremacy, it’s time to act up.

I’m not even sure what that will look like in the coming years. But it’s worth getting ready. And one thing that has meant for me is some extra time on the phone recently.

I admit, maybe my phone calls about Steve Bannon, a House Oversight Committee review of Donald Trump’s still-unreleased financials, the Affordable Care Act, Jeff Sessions, or anything else that will spur me to find a congressperson’s office number in the coming days, are a useless drop in the ocean.

And for people who sweat at the thought of jumping right to the crucial relationship phase of the spontaneous phone call with their elected representatives, yeah, it can be unpleasant.

One Republican representative’s staffer I spoke to was clearly irritated. She refused to take any of my info.

“I’ll just add you to the other 800,000 people who have called today,” she said sarcastically, and hung up on me.

But many other staffers were courteous.

If you can share articles on social media a mile a minute, but making a phone call to a federal legislator’s office seems scary, I challenge you to challenge yourself to speak up, in your own words, to someone besides the friends in your feed. The fact that some people on the other end of the line might be rude doesn’t mean you aren’t within your rights, simply asking them to do their job and hear you.

Last week, I was walking beside center city Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square at about 2pm on a weekday, and a man driving an unmarked white van had rolled his window down in the frigid afternoon so he could shout “Sieg Heil” while giving a Nazi salute out the driver’s side window. I think it was directed at a woman in a burka waiting at the bus stop there.

It’s not something I ever expected to see for myself on the streets of my city. I felt sick and cold on the sidewalk and I was embarrassed as tears welled up.

But how did the woman in the burka feel?

I have a feeling that in the coming years, fighting for what’s right in our country is going to take a lot more than making phone calls. But getting used to making those calls is probably a great way to start. (And why not be the 800,001st voice when your country needs it most?) Join what author Barbara Kingsolver calls “the solidarity of strangers” and get ready to speak up.

Like I said, maybe the individual phone call doesn’t mean much. But it could be good practice for the kind of active response Americans who value the Constitution are going to need under a Trump administration.

I doubt you’ll ever be able to move a promising relationship forward if you’re too nervous to call your partner on the phone. Maybe democracy works the same way.

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10 Comments

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  1. Yes,yes,YES! Great essay, but very scary.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. I enjoy talking on the phone (perhaps because I’m 62) so it didn’t bother me a bit to call Ryan’s office and speak to a staffer. She was very pleasant to me, and in fact while we were speaking, she sneezed and I said “Gesundheit!” and she laughed and thanked me. It was the kind of pleasant human-to-human interaction which will, no doubt, soon be obsolete.

  3. Brilliant. Yeah, making phone calls to political officials is scary as fuck for me. But I’ve done it before, and, partly thanks to this post, I plan to do it again.

  4. Scary times we are living in… And the burqa part really freaked me out… My mum wears one too… Everyone needs to do their part n speak out when they see hate speech

  5. Right on! You are so right about preparing ourselves to speak up, stand out and maybe “sit in”. I’ve watched others do all of the above over the course of my 66 years. It’s looking like dangerous times ahead for human rights and I hope to find the courage , energy, and resolve to participate physically, mentally and definitely vocally in the ” coming hard times”. Surely we can make enough noise to drown out a Tweet.

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