Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pick Up the Telephone!

I recently received a telephone call out of the blue from my friend Jock Pardoe.  After speaking with him for a minute or two, I still wasn't quite sure why he had called me, so I asked him.

"I'm calling just to say 'hello,'" he said, "It's been awhile since we spoke, and I was thinking about you.  So I thought I'd pick up the telephone and call you, and check in."

I was really quite flattered and pleased.  We had a lovely conversation, and I enjoyed catching up with Jock, hearing what he was up to and discussing what was going on in our respective lives and with our loved ones.  At the end we made plans to get together soon.  How nice, I thought, as I hung up the phone.  It had been a long time since someone called me up for no reason, except to say "hello."

And it got me thinking . . .

Over the last several years many people I know have pretty much dispensed with using the telephone to communicate, instead relying increasingly on email, texting (the youngs), and more recently Facebook.  It all started out in the workaday world, where email is far more efficient for taking care of routine business than endlessly leaving voicemail messages or speaking on the telephone.  With the advent of the BlackBerry and the iPhone, email very quickly took over in the personal world, too.  It's never been the same since for the poor old telephone.

While I think email is certainly an efficient and convenient means for communicating and sharing basic information, I believe it is no substitute for picking up the telephone and actually speaking with someone.  In fact, I think too many of us rely on email when we really should be picking up the telephone instead.

Now, before you roll your eyes and say, "Reggie, of course you think that way—you're a hopelessly old-fashioned fuddy-duddy!" I ask you to ponder the following:

How many times have you found that you have exchanged ten emails with someone to resolve something that could have been more efficiently taken care of in a single phone call?

How many times have you received a message via email from someone that contained time-sensitive or important information and that you somehow missed in your inbox queue, only to discover it several days later, if at all?

How many times have you received an invitation to a private party that you thought was for some kind of mass-email "event" promotion, and you ignored it, only to learn after the fact that it wasn't?

How many times have you sent (or received) an email where the content was—for whatever reason—misinterpreted by the recipient, where they took what you meant in the wrong way?

How many times have you hit the "send" button and then realized in re-reading what you wrote that it wasn't actually what you meant to say?

More times than you'd think.

In each of these cases, it would have been far preferable to pick up the telephone and call the person you wished to communicate with rather than sending them an email.

When writing and sending emails or texts, you can't always depend that your reader will truly understand what you are saying, or interpret it in the way you intended.  Email is not a nuanced communication tool.  Email is the absolute worst medium to use when communicating a criticism or a complaint, because it can set the recipient off.  Unlike when speaking with someone, in an email you can't determine how your audience has interpreted or reacted to what you have written, until you hear back from them.  That is, assuming they ever email you back.

Boy has a very sound rule that he follows, both in his personal life and in his professional one: never use email to discuss non-routine business, or where the recipient could potentially misconstrue what is being written about.  Only use email for routine communication of information.  If you've got to work something out with another person, then get on the telephone and speak with them.

And he's right.

Another reason one should only use email for routine communication or business is that you can't control who your email will ultimately be forwarded to.  Once an email has been sent it is out there, in the public domain.  How many of us have been forwarded or seen emails (sometimes in the media) that someone else sent that contained embarrassing or less than flattering information about the sender?  I have, and so have you.

Dear Reader, I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't use email.  No, not at all.  What I am encouraging you to do is to use email only for what it is best suited: routine communication.  Do not rely on it as a substitute for picking up the telephone and actually speaking with someone, particularly in those situations I have outlined above.

When emailing your friends and loved ones, ask yourself whether email is the most appropriate, efficient, or politic means of communicating with your audience, or if what you have to say or communicate would be better done over the telephone.  An effective way of determining that is to ask yourself what you would prefer if you were the one being contacted.  Would you rather get a phone call or an email?  I think you will be surprised how many times you decide that speaking with someone on the telephone is preferable to email.

And what about my friend Jock's reason for using the telephone, to call up his friends simply to say "hello"?   I think it is the best reason of all.

And with that, Dear Reader, I rest my case.

Pick up the telephone!

All photographs courtesy of LIFE Images, Martha Holmes photographer


  1. Reggie, I completely agree, as usual (always?).

  2. I couldn't agree more. I often pick up the phone in the middle of a text exchange with my son. Startling him, I'm sure, but it's just silly to keep tapping away on a phone when 30 seconds of talk would suffice. I think this reluctance indicate the overhead of human relationships, that it feels like a hurdle to jump over to initiate discussion, but, sorry, that's how it is. Welcome to humanity.

  3. So true! I have much younger friends who send me texts, and quite often I oblige these entreaties by responding by text, only for what could have been established - even a simple get together - by telephone, in a an instant. So rather that the back and forth continuing until the cows come home, I ring and confirm all that is required for a rendezvous. Voila! We do seem to have complicated our lives by this mode of communication.

  4. Reggie,

    I could not agree with you light of recent personal events I wish that someone had phoned me instead of mailing..the consequences have proved to be ghastly.

    BTW...those photos are charming!


  5. I agree wholeheartedly! And I am not an old fuddy-duddy, but a young(ish) fuddy-duddy. But just yesterday, after 5 e-mails back and forth, I picked up the phone and called the very surprised sender. And we resolved the scheduling issue in 2 minutes flat, rather than 20 more e-mails.

  6. I concur on the points made about e-mails. I also love these old photos..rotary dial phones...

  7. I've discovered that people who use Facebook and emails exclusively tend to assume that the rest of us check our emails every 10 minutes.

    I recently attended a dinner whose guest of honor is such a person. The hosts and I had wine and nibbled on snacks for an hour beyond arrival time. When the guest of honor didn't show, our immediate concern was that he had been in an accident. Phone calls went unanswered. Finally, the hostess thought to check her email. He had emailed to regret that morning!

  8. Reggie,my favorite phone calls are those we share on an almost weekly basis.
    xox Camilla

  9. Just like LPC, I too have right in the middle of a texting exravaganza, just called the other party. I felt so silly continuing to text when we really needed to just, I'm a terribly slow texter and typist and much prefer vocal connections.
    Spot on again Reggie...I believe you've won your case (the New York Times or some other mass periodical should really print this!).
    xo J~

  10. I agree. I use the phone a lot, and I am in the under-30 set. I get so frustrated with my generation's email and text message obsession. There are plenty of great uses for electronic communication, but I use the phone whenever I can. My older friends and relatives appreciate it, but my peers often do not!

  11. I feel like I should call you instead of commenting! A great reminder of the value of talking. Absolutely loved the images that went with this post.

  12. I have enjoyed reading your blog over the last couple of months. When my computer was broken for a few weeks, I told my husband that what I missed the most was keeping up with Darlington House! I very much enjoyed this post and feel quite the same about handwritten letters. When appreciation or affection is truly sincere, put it on paper and let your thoughts season along their postal journey. Nothing is quite as lovely as holding a letter in your hands! It may be my rather overly proper Southern grandmother still haunting me, but handwritten, please -- typing is for the office!

  13. Excellent advice. And you've inspired me to call a dear friend, too!

  14. (You just write this sort of thing to provoke me, don't you?)

    Decades ago, we had several lines, all unlisted. A centrex system with wonderful black telephones, each arrayed with separate buttons for the individual lines. There was even a special button you could punch to put an existing call on hold. And rotary dials to boot! In short, it was, however brief, a wonderful time to be alive.

    Then, of course came the fall. The system grew old and cranky, was hard to repair, and someone -- not me! -- in a fit of egalitarianism said we shouldn't have unlisted numbers.

    You can imagine the consequences. Where we could once pick up the phone with a reasonable expectation of finding someone we knew at the other end, all at once we were besieged by a nation of telephonic beggars -- charities, schools, dodgy politicians, or worse. This was intolerable. So gradually, we reduced the number of landlines to one, and fed that line into an answering machine that does not ever ring.

    This meant we were reduced to cell phones, and anyone who had those numbers genuinely needed to have them for cause -- but no one else.

    Which left email, which was and is our salvation.

    Reggie, your experience with email is very different from my own. When I get an email, I invariably respond to it promptly, and I have never had any difficulty whatsoever giving precise instructions. (In fact, I am somewhat bothered by the fact that hand-written notes seem to carry less weight!)

    Perhaps this is simply a matter of temperament. Being an old person, I like surprises less than I once did. And I know that anyone I care about who genuinely needs to reach me has an email address. People I love even have a phone number.

    To paraphrase some defunct Brit, I now prefer click-click to jaw-jaw. And I suspect that you too will less often be seduced by the braying of the phone line when you get older.

    (What's the over/under here?)

  15. Your tone of voice Reggie Darling is all to clear and I hope some day I will have the honor of hearing it. Amen to the telephone!

  16. Yesterday, I had a long, lovely phone call from my dear auntie. It made me realize I need to replace some emails with some real-live phone conversation.

    These photos are priceless!

  17. "Pick up the telephone!"


    Not everyone wants bells going off in the sanctity of the home, or in the car, the shower, the store, the salon. Put the dam* phone down and give yourself, and the rest of us, a BREAK [BRAKE].

    What Ancient said, times two.

  18. My experience and opinion are rather different. Email has actually vastly improved my efficiency in this area, having always been a rather more loosey-goosey type than RD. It has also kept me in better touch with old friends. I like email because it is less obtrusive than a phone call, and I am also always able to filter myself on sensitive subjects, something I am decidedly and admittedly bad at in real life (though I do not have 100% success even then). I like the swiftness of email, combined with it's non-intrusiveness.

    Your post reminded me of a visit made to my fourth grade class, back in the dark ages, by a representative of the phone company to teach us telephone manners. The nice lady arrived with two phone sets that even then were antediluvian, and in turn we children would would play out little phone etiquette scenarios. To this day, forty-many years later, I am almost quiver with guilt if I have to make a phone call (or receive one) before 9:00 AM, or after 9:00PM--and heaven forfend that I do not let the phone ring for 12 full rings (the proper amount to allow Mrs. Warthog to get in from the garden to answer my call in that pre-cell phone, pre-answering machine era). Caller ID sends me into a tailspin, when the recipient of the call answers and says 'hello, Dilly', thus completely obviating the 'hello, this is Mr. Dilettante, may I speak to Mr. Darling if he's available?' opener. Takes me a full ten seconds to recover...etc etc.


  19. LPC: I have done the same thing more than once, and I find it a most admirable solution to the maddening backing and forthing that otherwise would be the case, if it were left to email (or texting, which I haven't mastered).

    Columnist: Exactly!

    Hostess: Indeed! I am glad you like the photographs, I had fun with them.

    Stephanie: Thank you for your perspective, I am glad that all is not lost with the youngs.

    Mark D. Ruffner: The rudeness of the supposed guest of honor you describe is inexcusable n the extreme, and the hostess would have every right in my book to slap them (or at least give them a piece of her mind) the next time she had the misfortune to see their self-centered, thoughtless, and rude face. Email is no substitute for calling in these situations. Astonishing!

    Sister: I feel the same way, thank you.

    24 Corners: Your approach is admirable, and one shared by a number of other commenters, too. Thank you!

  20. Reggie -You say it so well and you are SO RIGHT! What is this world coming to? People don't write thank you notes, can't walk around without a Blackberry in their hand, cannot sit through ANYTHING without checking said Blackberry over and over, drive around and don't stop and don't use turn signals because they have a cell in their hand and have to take a photo of absolutely every single thing because they can.......Honestly -I think email is great and a nice compromise of using both should exist - But there is nothing to compare to the personal touch.
    Remember "Princess" phones?
    Call me!

  21. Ms. Mindless: Another of the younger set weighs in! Many thanks for your perspective.

    Notting Hill: Most amusing. I am glad you liked the photos, as I very much liked those you posted on your blog on Saint Patrick's Day. I particularly liked the one of you as a bride kissing your grandfather. It was lovely.

    Kelly: Why, thank you, I blush! And I agree with you—the practice (and art) of taking pen to paper is quickly going the way of the buggy whip. But like many lost (or losing) arts, it is to be preserved (and encouraged) and is routinely engaged in at Darlington House.

    T&CM: How nice! I hope it was a pleasant conversation.

    Ancient: Thank you for bringing back the memories of awe and delight that I had as a boy when I first came across such a telephone system as you describe in the house of an immensely rich neighbor. I vividly remember picking up the receiver and pushing the buttons that switched from line to line (there was even an internal "house" line) and being thrilled to hear the differing dial tones. I was also quite pleased that I was not caught doing so, as I believe it would have led to a reprimanding.

    Perhaps I did not make myself clear in this essay. I am not proposing indiscriminate usage of the telephone, and certainly not in those cases where email will suffice--as I write, I believe email is appropriate (and often preferable) for routine communication. Just as email can be abused, though, so can the telephone be abused. My point here is that there are times when the telephone is the most efficient and personal means of communicating with someone who isn't in the same room as you are. I believe that too many people today rely on email when they should be picking up the phone instead, in those instances as I provide in my essay. Mr. Ruffner cites a particularly egregious example of email abuse in his comment, where the putative guest of "honor" did himself, his hostess, and her guests a great disfavor by not telephoning his regrets.

    I, personally, am not a great fan of the telephone, and I abhor (as you write) the endless "jaw-jaw" that some engage in upon it. However, I respect (and appreciate it) that there are circumstances and situations where it is the most preferred, efficient, and personal means of communicating with one's absent loved ones, friends, and business colleagues. And it is in those instances that I admonish my readers to pick up the telephone.

  22. HFK: I am glad you agree. Thank you.

    Tess: Bravo!

    Flo: Please see my response to the Ancient, as I believe it applies to your comment as well.

  23. Published March, 18, 2011 The New York Times:
    "Don't Call Me, I Won't Call You"

  24. I pick up the phone after 9 am and call.
    Email is only for post card type stuff.
    If I have something I really need to say
    that is important it better be eyeball to eyeball, unless impossible.
    Letters and hand written cards work too.
    ( after 15 practice sessions.)Peace.

  25. DED: I am not saying that one shouldn't use email, and I certainly appreciate how it is an extremely efficient communication tool--if used appropriately. What I am saying is that it is all too easy to fall into the habit of using email reflexively, and that there are more times than many (today) may think when using the telephone is a far more effective and preferable communication tool. Thank you for your most amusing comment.

    Bennie: Thank you for your comment, it is clear that you and I share similar thoughts on the subject. And yes, I do remember the princess phone. In fact, I still keep one today that I bring out when the electricity at Darlington is out, which happens more than one would care for, and which renders my other, electricity-dependent telephones useless.

  26. EMF: Thank you for the link to the piece in the NY Times, which I have read (and I thank you for pointing it out to me as I missed it when it was published). Reggie welcomes disagreement, and is always interested in a contrary point of view. As is clear from this essay, though, he does not agree with the author of the article. Tell me, do you?

    Izzy: Thank you for your comment. You may be interested to learn that your mother once chastised a young Reggie for telephoning your house before 9 am one Saturday morning. She was perfectly nice about it, but made it very clear to him that he should never do it again!

  27. "EMF: Thank you for the link to the piece in the NY Times"

    I was just reading NYT, saw that bit, picked it up to bring over here and share with you. Sorry for being a grouch, Reggie. I aspire to your grace and style, I mostly aspire to the warmth of your extraversion, I fail often. Yours was a wonderful essay, the photos particularly sweet.

    What started me at the Times this am was the article re how Hillary et al turned the President around on Libya. Wonderful reading of behind scenes tactics and maneuvers where, you guessed it, the telephone figures importantly all the way through.

  28. Reggie --

    We don't entirely disagree.

    It's certainly true that direct conversation can speed things up and sort out possible misunderstandings with greater efficiency than email.

    How well I remember the time the great Swedish actress Bibi Andersson was convinced I had mistaken her for a Spanish transvestite of the same name who posted pornographic movies on the internet.

    Fortunately (as it seems only in retrospect), I was standing only two feet away, and we were able to sort this out amicably with nothing like the bother email would have entailed.

    Cheers, etc.

  29. Flo: Thank you very much!

    Ancient: Reggie would give his eye-teeth to have been a fly on the wall to witness the exchange between you and Miss Andersen!

  30. Absolutely wonderful post- Several times I've started to send a text or email only to stop and decide to place a phone call. Somethings cannot be adequately expressed in writing. I've also learned some people love the almighty "forward" on email and text. Another great topic very similar to this one is handwritten letters and notes versus email thank you messages. Nothing is as special as a handwritten note or letter on beautiful stationary.

  31. Love the photos! You are spot on, in act there was a bit about that
    Subject in the Times today!
    Have a great week!
    Jamie Herzlinger

  32. I really enjoyed your blog today. It used to be that you had to pay for a text. Say 15 cents. I could never understand why someone would text when they could talk for 1-2 minutes for the same price. I called an old friend yesterday myself-nice to catch up. It made my day to talk to him again. Take care.

  33. As always- the comments enhance the post in a most delightful way. Of course I prefer email-though you are right in personal relationships email can be misconstrued. I am as careful in writing emails as with handling the fine china. I do find for my clients especially- email is ideal. They are running with small children all day and rarely can focus on something until early am. or late in the evening or the quick text for the quick answer. Otherwise on certain projects-a half dozen calls a day would transpire.Since I don't work every day it is likely I don't check messages or have the in focus mode I need to talk business. I do think the phone is wonderful for the family chats I enjoy-though with one of my brothers it is-when do we both have the hour we inevitably need to talk? It is generational too-though I know RD and BD are Young beyond...My 81 year old mother is defined by the phone-it rings you answer. For me-It rings I walk out of the room. It jars my nerves. I actually find we are now scheduling phone calls- and that is called Focus. I need Focus to Fone. Would love to schedule a tete a tete with you- Call Me, but let me know what time by email. xo, la


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