HOTLINE BLING: REDISCOVER THE MAGIC OF MAKING ACTUAL PHONE CALLS
The blinding Los Angeles sunset aggressively reflecting from the rearview mirror directly into my retinas while I crept slowly, almost unperceivably, along the eastbound freeway was never enjoyable—although I’m sure it was cheaper than laser eye surgery.
But I never really minded.
Unless no one was picking up.
Living in Los Angeles, I spent hours a day in my car travelling to and from wherever I was and wherever I had to be and often doing so at a snail’s pace. This ample alone time (what carpool lane?) in my temperature controlled four-wheeled box of solitude allowed me many hours to learn the lyrics to every song on the radio, develop my knee-steering abilities, spill tons of liquids in places that can not be cleaned in a car, and master meditation while maintaining the minimal level of consciousness approved by the DMV. The best part of the car rides though was the chance to catch up with someone over the phone.
You heard me.
A real life phone call with a real life human being.
Not a text.
Not an emoji.
A ring ring ring and then a voice.
And I'd wonder what their face looked like when they saw my name on the screen of their phone. And I'd see if I could feel the person smile when they said, Hello. And I'd feel myself smile as I said, Hello, back. And then we'd shoot the shit until one of us, usually the one on the east coast who thought it was getting late, had to go.
I can’t think of anything better. I know people disagree and I even know a few teenagers who don't know what I'm talking about. They've confirmed my suspicions without raising their eyes or halting their thumbs.
There’s an art to the phone call that is evaporating into the ether.
There’s an air of vulnerability in actually speaking to each other that we’re getting away with getting away without.
I commute mostly underground these days since moving to New York. The lack of sunset in my rearview is accompanied with 100% less idle time spent in a car on the phone. The time spent above ground is usually loud and pointed and involves a lot of strangers assertively claiming their rightful space in this city via elbows.
If my schedule allows I’ll opt for the long walk home, seeing if I can get someone on the line before the subway tempts me with lethargy and efficiency.
But I miss my lingering phone calls. So I scroll through my contacts. Intentionally walking past stops. Trying another number of someone who is probably free right now wondering if the phone feature of their phone still works.
These people exist, I promise! You know someone who is waiting for that hotline bling.
My grandmother used to tell my family a story about how she would walk home from elementary school with her best friend Alice. They lived close to each other so it would only be minutes between saying goodbye in person and immediately stealing away to their bedrooms to say hello again through the telephone. My great-grandfather would curiously ask how they had anything else to talk about after just leaving each others’ side. There was always something to talk about, even when they’d seemingly covered everything.
Haven't we had this conversation before? I think we have. Yeah, maybe we have. Who cares.
These days, that kind of excitement over communication exists prominently in texting and instant app culture. It’s so easy to like and favorite and retweet and share and never have to dial. We keep tabs on our friends and their whereabouts. Mostly we keep tabs on strangers and their whereabouts. We know what people think and where they go and who they’re with if they’re willing to post about it. We can stay connected with each other without explicit permission because the entire world has open access to our life updates if we allow it.
And most of us allow it.
Because it’s fun and it’s hip and it seems a lot like real communication and real relationships without a ton of effort.
And it is communication.
And they are relationships.
But my gosh, I'll fight for that face to face or at least that ear to phone communication ‘til I hit the Google Glass ceiling.
I'll rally for the kind of communication emojis can't convey:
Those big sighs and lingering silences that comes through the other end of the phone after you tell someone you're really sorry; the unstoppable laughter that you can't control when you're actually laughing out loud; the immediate relief and gratification of hearing that long story without the delay of a dot dot dot.
I get that texting is easy and fun. And like most things that are easy and fun it comes with caveats.
The prominence and acceptability of texting culture has created a really warm communication safety blanket that feels super comfy but like any safety blanket can be inhibiting.
We date people for a bit and ghost them, falling off the planet with no warning. We abandon social commitments with a casual last minute cancellation without fear of hearing the disappointment in someone's voice. We attack people with sarcasm and hide behind the barrier of our screens. We back down from saying what our hearts depend on us saying and settle for the stories we create around lack luster responses and cloudy replies.
Texting allows for a lot of socially acceptable lack of responsibility.
And let's be honest, that sucks.
A phone call can be intimidating. All those numbers! Remembering who you called after all those rings! What about my poor idle thumbs!?
A phone call is an act with intention. Butt dials excluded.
Best case scenario: you call and the intended person picks up and your romance with actual conversations begins. Worst case scenario: you get their voicemail. That’s a win win in my phonebook.
I can guarantee that if you’ve left me a voicemail, I have saved it on my phone for a long period of time, if not indefinitely. I wait for overcrowded train rides or long waits in doctor’s offices or those terrible nights at work when it seems appropriate to reconsider every choice I ever made and replay the messages in my ear.
I listen to the voices of people I know who care enough to call. I hear their messages—their often funny and awkward and innocent messages—and am reminded of the life I love on the other side, where the people who have these voices are living. Hopefully not in a train or a doctor’s office or at work.
Or perhaps, they’re exactly in those places as well, which is why they called in the first place.
Wouldn't that be fun to talk about?
I would give anything to hear the voices again of those I've lost both permanently and emotionally. Sometimes that's inspiration enough to call. Carpe dial.
Look at your day. Look at your week. Then look at your contact list. Where can you fit in a few minutes to verbally acknowledge that you miss someone, love someone, are constantly reminded of them in the smallest, weirdest places? Do you have the courage and the bravery to actually tell someone that you're sorry, that you heard what happened and you're thinking of them, that you'll both be ok but it's just not working?
There's time. There's space. Your one day aged thumbs will thank you.
I'd say Pick up the phone, but I assume you're already holding it.
Now dial like you mean it.