Our shared fear of telephone calls

CandlestickTelephones_edited (just man)_editedI’m scared of making and answering phone calls.

Not that long ago I would never have told you this, but today I can put it in print without shame thanks to a Twitter conversation I was a part of.

It was a series of frank, often moving, admissions from people who had originally come together over a shared love of football.

The exchange spanned 80 tweets and about three hours and I wept throughout. It was draining and embarrassing (I was at work at the time). But it was also cathartic. I had no idea other people loathed and dreaded phone conversations as much as I did, let alone apparently well-adjusted people who swore with consummate ease and were capable of making regular amusing observations on all manner of non-nerd subjects.

The telephone has always been an untrustworthy intermediary masquerading as an inanimate conduit. It is a great manipulator, playing both parties off against one another at every opportunity.

“He thinks you sound like a bogan,” it whispers. “Round your vowels.”

“Yes, that was a hint of boredom,” it assures you. “Speak faster and conclude the conversation quickly.”

“I think he did hang up on you,” it confides, with faux outrage. “And before he did… I dunno… the line sort of broke up a bit – couldn’t tell you why – but I think what he was getting at was that your work is sub-standard and he has little respect for you as a professional or a person.”

It is a distortive influence that daily affects our relationships, our food orders and our careers. And yet despite its arcane power, the telephone is a distinctly limited piece of technology.

Ask the phone whether Dennis from Finance did (as he so vehemently claims) tell you last week not to worry about that incredibly important thing that’s now blown up and caused you great professional angst and the phone will shrug nonchalantly and ask: “What am I? Email?”

We should release ourselves from the telephone’s malign grip and embrace our shared telephonophobia – that’s a real thing, by the way.

Let the phone ring out.

Jonathan Rivett hasn’t answered his phone since 1995.



An edited version of this article first appeared in the MyCareer section of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

You can read Benign to Five in those papers every Saturday, and if you miss it, you can look it up online in the BusinessDay section of The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, WAToday and Brisbane Times. (I now wankishly call myself a “syndicated columnist” on my CV.)

Read more Haught newspaper columns

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