email always, phone call, almost zero
October 23, 2011 2:29 PM   Subscribe

Help me analyze this: why am I strongly prefer email than phone call to communicate with my friends. Am I selfish, hypocritical?

I have many friends. Some are from highschool, thousands miles away, some are from college living in America, some are in the same neighborhood I live in. I do miss them and want to keep in touch with them. But my life is super busy just like everybody else. So I keep in touch with them by email. I am very reluctant to call anybody. Because it's hard to call on phone without interruption. Sometimes, I feel I don't know what to say. When they call me and I missed the call, I will email them back instead of call them back. In my email, I say I miss them, I also share some intimate details of my thought and life. I enjoy this process. In a way, I feel that I want to keep them at a distance. I only use them for my own benefit. I also like to solve their problems if I can. But I am not really that interested in the details of their lives. Am I ok with this, am I a true friend? or am I selfish and hypocritical? I have the problem of trying to please other people at least on surface. Any insight on this behavior? Is it linked to childhood experience? Any comment?
posted by akomom to Human Relations (25 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Because phone calls are incredibly presumptuous! You're basically inviting yourself unannounced into their home or wherever they may be at the moment. If phones had been invented after email they'd be regarded as the greatest social crime imagineable. Phones are useful for many things but I don't think you're crazy for preferring email for catching up with someone, it's an excellent way to communicate a large amount of information. Email (or a text) says "Here is what I have to say, consider it and respond when you can," a phone call says "TALK TO ME NOW, TALK TO ME NOW. I AM IN YOUR HOUSE TALK TO ME NOW" Not everyone thinks this way though so you're going to get some friction, but that doesn't mean you're wrong.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 2:41 PM on October 23, 2011 [58 favorites]

Do they write you back?

If they do, then I think you're okay.

I don't know if it's the internet or what, but I do think there's been a general trend in the past five years or so, of people in general preferring email/text to calls. I think it's gotten to the point where a call feels so intimate that people save them for people they're super close to, and fear being stuck on the phone for longer than they want. A friend a mine had a blog post up the other day, in which she thoroughly seconded some comedian's notion that the worst thing you could do to a person is leave them a voicemail. So I think that it's true that people in general dread phone calls more, and you're far from alone in that.

That said --- part of the thing people like about text is that it gives you greater control about when you have to deal with that person and their needs. To call someone you have to find a space in your day, or make a space, to address that person. knowing that you can't just ditch the call when you get bored, that you have to be polite, that it might end up taking a little more time than you bargain for, that you might be stuck for something to say. That makes text more convenient. But sometimes people are inconvenient, and keeping them in your life costs you something. If you only ever want to deal with people when it's convenient for you --- then I think those relationships will inevitably wither.
posted by Diablevert at 2:43 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're definitely not alone, and I don't think your preference for email signals anything at all about the strength of your friendships or about your personality.
posted by decathecting at 2:45 PM on October 23, 2011

Unfortunately, this issue seems to be at least partly a matter of region and profession -- friends and family who have long, traffic-filled car commutes want to catch up on the phone because it fills otherwise wasted hours, whereas writing an email takes a chunk out of their precious non-driving free time. I live in a city and mostly work from home, so phone calls are almost always an interruption that get in the way of productivity, make me pause the movie I'm watching with my housemates, or keep me from getting dinner in the oven on time.

Some people you kind of have to make that time for if they ask you to, like parents or super-close friends. But for everyone else? If you're taking the time to write them thoughtful emails, you're keeping up your end of the correspondence just fine.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:49 PM on October 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

This is not odd at all. I dislike phone calls personally, because I don't get a whole lot of non-verbal communication cues that I find I rely on a lot in personal interaction. I simply don't find phone calls a highly enjoyable way to communicate.

Of course, I don't get non-verbals in email, either, as much. But it's a different type of communication, in which I don't feel the need to figure out non-verbals in a live situation. There's a safe distance in which to craft carefully and to enjoy it as a different mode of communication, and even to communicate certain things in certain ways that are not always possible on a phone.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:52 PM on October 23, 2011

Best answer: If I'm reading this correctly, it seems that there are two different things going on here. One is that you prefer email to phone. Lots of other people will agree with you on that. I HATE talking on the phone - even when I love the person I'm talking to and am totally interested in what they're saying - and I know I'm not the only one. However, this:

I only use them for my own benefit. I also like to solve their problems if I can. But I am not really that interested in the details of their lives.

is something else. I wonder, if you really have that many friends, maybe you've just held on to some of them out of habit, and now you don't have much in common with them anymore. If you're really not interested in the lives of people you call your friends, perhaps you've grown apart. If they wrote you long emails about the details of their lives, would you be interested? Or is it only hearing those details on the phone that you don't like?
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:53 PM on October 23, 2011 [8 favorites]

I wouldn't worry about this too much - it's hardly a defect, just a personality thing. I'm the same way. I really dislike phone calls - except with a very few close friends, I have trouble collecting my thoughts and thinking of what to say now. Writing gives me time to get it together and say what I want to say. And sometimes having their responses in a format that allows saving is really a wonderful thing.

I have regular phone calls with my parents. All my other friends I have emails with. Sometimes long, complicated exchanges. Our friendships don't seem to suffer from that. In fact sometimes I wish my parents were more into email.

The only caveat to that is that, for work, it's often better to speak in person or on the phone. When people don't know and trust each other, it's easy to misunderstand and assume ill intent. In general, once things get heated, either step away or pick up the phone.
posted by bunderful at 2:54 PM on October 23, 2011

I tend to email a lot as people I know often have weird schedules. This way I can share information with them at a time that is convenient.
posted by Samizdata at 3:09 PM on October 23, 2011

Maybe it is because I'm getting older (grumpier), or because a high percentage of the phone calls we get are unwanted solicitations, or that 95% of my work-related communication is via email, but I really dislike it when the phone rings any more; at least on my land line.

Those with access to my cell phone number are all individuals I have no problem speaking with.

If the cell phone reception within my own home were not so spotty, I'd just ditch the land line all together.

Especially since getting a smart phone, I really much prefer email for almost everything.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:15 PM on October 23, 2011

Am I ok with this, am I a true friend? or am I selfish and hypocritical?

Feels like there can be a point when not calling can get inconsiderate, selfish. If one friend, sibling, etc., prefers more phone, less email, a modicum of compromise seems reasonable.

If it amounts to, "I will not communicate with you through your preferred means of doing so because I don't care for it," that does seem selfish; compromise and consideration for preferences are facets of friendship.
posted by ambient2 at 4:33 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I only call my parents (and then I prefer video chat). Everybody else - friends or family - it's e-mail. This may be because I'm strongly introverted, don't like surprise calls, prefer to be prepared / have a plan, don't enjoy idle chit chat, I'm not comfortable being 'on the spot' when people want to talk about sensitive things, and I'd frankly rather not hear about that sort of stuff to begin with.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:39 PM on October 23, 2011

Response by poster: thanks for the comments. I feel 1: reassured of my way of communication, 2: rethinking what I call friends. Definitely there are different closeness and connection among friends. So when situation change, friends grow apart, it's inevitable that we don't talk on phone anymore. So no need to blame myself on that. Focus on true friends, use efficient way to communicate, and not feel guilty about it.
posted by akomom at 4:49 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm currently reading "The Big Short" by Michael Lewis. One of the main characters in the book is Dr. Michael Burry. He hates interacting with people in person. In the early days of the Internet, he developed relationships with many people he characterized as "email pals". He even corresponds with his wife that way.

It turns out he has Asperger's, but reading your account immediately brought him to mind.
posted by reenum at 4:59 PM on October 23, 2011

I wonder if this is generational, but then I do lots of emailing every day, as well. But there's something about emails that holds the other person at arm's length, and lets you (and me) respond on our own schedule--it's not as intimate as a phone call. I think that never calling and always emailing is a way of pretending to be close. It's a substitute for intimacy.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:13 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hey, at least you're emailing each one personally, instead of putting up status bulletins on Facebook and considering it enough to maintain all your friendships.
posted by zadcat at 5:18 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love email and find it to be a good form of communication. On the other hand, I do think that if someone calls you, you should call them back. I don't think that calling someone is don't have to pick up if you can't talk. That's why we have voicemail. You can call back when you have the time to talk. But as far as staying in touch with others through your own initiation...I see no problems with email. For me the phone is mostly dedicated to close friends and family. Beyond that, I stay in touch with others via email. So no worries here.
posted by ljs30 at 5:21 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am 40. On the whole I find younger friends and business contacts mostly ignore the phone (then I get a text or email saying "missed your call - whats up?", thus moving the chat to their preferred platform) and my older friends mostly ignore their email in preference of the phone. Certainly in my group it seems to be generational.
posted by fatmouse at 6:54 PM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am rather depressed by most of these comments, but understand them completely and I appreciate the honesty. Nobody seems to want intimacy anymore. We want to keep family and friends at arms length. We want to be in control. We don't want to be put "on the spot" during a phone call, meaning vulnerability is off the table. We are all too busy for real conversations. I think there is something wrong with all of us who think this is perfectly normal and OK. It is certainly common and we can feel safety in numbers. But on the whole, this is when family members in the same house text each other instead of talking. Everything has changed.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:23 PM on October 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

I hate the phone, except when I talk to friends and family, and remember that I like to talk to them. For work, people who are good at email can be way more efficient with it than phone calls.
posted by theora55 at 7:37 PM on October 23, 2011

I hate the telephone, unless it's scheduled in advance (and even then it always feels really awkward to me). An inbound call is necessarily interrupting whatever I was already doing, and I really, really hate that. My life has little enough unscripted time to begin with. When I place a call, I feel like I'm assuming that whatever I want to chat about is more important than anything the call's recipient was already doing.

I also feel like live, voice-only communication is a poor sibling; you lose the body language of a face-to-face conversation, but you also lose the clarity of being able to think through and edit your thoughts before you convey them.
posted by Andrhia at 8:22 PM on October 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

I just hate being interrupted in the middle of a class, live TV show, etc. by a goddamned phone call with someone who wants to whine and yammer for an hour. I'm a speed reader, so I can get through the whine so much faster in e-mail. Plus I have never found it easy to concentrate on someone talking in my ear without some kind of visual. My nightmare is someone giving me instructions over the phone. Dear god. And right now, I am substituting in another department at work and my job would be a billion times more unpleasant if I had to do all of it over the telephone with no visuals and e-mail records of the long transactions I end up in at times.

Unfortunately, some people, like my mother, absolutely require phone calls and hearing my voice as I say "uh-huh, uh-huh" while feeling like my soul is being sucked down a toilet tonight as she tells me every single relative's sob story every time her show goes to a commercial. So that's really awesome.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:25 PM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm 27 and consider phone calls weirdly intimate. I call my parents, my wife and 1 or 2 really, really good friends on a somewhat regular basis. If I just made a new friend and I wanted to chat about stuff, I'd definitely send an e-mail.

This excludes business stuff and making plans, of course. But even then I tend to make plans on Facebook or something.
posted by GilloD at 10:24 PM on October 23, 2011

You are fine! You're probably one of those people who simply prefer the benefits of the written word as a form of communication. These include:

- The ability to compose your thoughts in your own time, as convenient.
- The ability to send these thoughts only when ready.
- The blessed, blessed relief of not being interrupted or sidetracked.
- Not having to deal with poor sound, bad connections and an inarticulate exchange filled with "y'knows", "likes", "ers" and "so I was all and then she was alls"

I hate phone conversations. Absolutely hate 'em. They come at inconvenient times, or else you make them at inconvenient times for the recipient, they're usually packed with inane exchanges and awkward pauses and they're just an unwelcome distraction. Lots of us feel this way, and are baffled by these folk who seem to need a phone glued to their ear at all times, no matter what they're doing. You're absolutely fine and it's perfectly reasonable to prefer to email your friends.
posted by Decani at 11:49 PM on October 23, 2011

Seymour Zamboni: " Nobody seems to want intimacy anymore. We want to keep family and friends at arms length. We want to be in control. We don't want to be put "on the spot" during a phone call, meaning vulnerability is off the table. We are all too busy for real conversations. "

Dunno that I agree completely with this. I'm sure it applies sometimes, but you could just as easily say writing long emails full of intimate information is more vulnerable, because the way the medium works allows you to divulge things that would be mortifying to try to say out loud or that you'd never say because it would put your audience on the spot in a totally unacceptable and unfair way (at least, for me and others I know this is true). There's something to be said for allowing time rumination and reflection in communication, which I think is what a lot of text/email-over-phone folks like about it. It's not necessarily about control, it's about recognizing some things are best thought through before you respond. And it is MORE time consuming in its way, more demanding to write back and forth, so it can have added social weight (I don't write much to friends I'm not that close to; I'd be much more likely to call them for 5 seconds to get an answer that isn't that important to me than take the time to email and have to set my words in stone). It's like going back to letter writing, with all the possibilities that entails. It can be as intimate and time consuming as you make it. It just depends on the person.
posted by ifjuly at 4:45 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also hate the phone.

I do, however, love to get emails from friends telling me about their lives.

And I do have a few friends who at least in some circumstances prefer the phone; for them, I try to realize that their need to talk on the phone might trump my lack of enthusiasm at least some of the time. If I've got a friend in crisis who needs someone to listen, I'll buck up and deal with the stupid phone. (Not without some growling.)

Your comment about "use efficient method of communication" makes me worry that you won't talk on the phone to friends when they need it; it's important to realize that just because you don't like the phone doesn't make it inherently a worse form of communication. You are not right about disliking the phone; similarly, your friends aren't right about preferring it. It's simply a difference, and for the people who are most important in your life, you should be flexible when you can.
posted by nat at 11:30 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

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