When the telephone was rolled out for the general public it was wired and was fixed to one location. Eventually, cordless phones came out and then mobile phones. Telephones have been developing for decades.
But now home telephone usage is in decline, with mobiles and broadband our phone usage has been eaten away by Whatsapp, hangouts and other phone and messaging apps.
The really interesting thing is that audio conversations generally are falling, with messaging and video taking more and more of the way we communicate.
Today, less than 70% of us make an audio call at least once per week. This figure has fallen over 20% in the last 5 years and its fall is continuing to accelerate.
So what has happened to our voice calls…
Our phone number has been abused.
I use a lot of different apps, I prefer messaging than phone calls. I am just on the edge of the social media generation, but having social media for nearly a decade means I have probably been affected.
I generally don’t like phone calls because I get so many sales calls from PPI refunds, car crash claim companies and people trying to convince me to change electricity provider.
I have switched off to phone calls, I prefer email, messaging or video. Just because I have a phone doesn’t mean I am available and my phone is for my convenience not for the convenience of salespeople.
This overuse of sales calls has really damaged the phone call as a medium. It has made us suspicious of withheld numbers and any number we do not know.
The transition from landline to mobile has made it personal.
Have you ever received a Facebook message from a stranger trying to connect with you? Its little weird right?
What about a friend request when you have no mutuals?
What about a skype call from someone you don’t know or from an acquaintance unexpectedly?
It either creates a sense of uneasiness.
It’s poor etiquette to initiate a call with someone you do not know well. If you have ever tried to reach someone under 30 by phone with an unknown or different number, this is self-explanatory. The generations before us, baby boomers etc, would not be as concerned but my generation and the ones following find it to be weird and unsettling.
Unless it’s an emergency, phone calls are very personal. They never used to be, but they are now. They are deeply personal. They are not the same as email.
A phone call can cut through what anyone is doing and request their attention, that is why it is used by cold callers and that is why it is becoming such a personal medium. Our time is in demand, we are so busy, so the phone has become a personal item to manage our friendships, time and life in general.
The only occasion I find phone calls useful is if you want to understand something quickly from a colleague or client. A medium where you can quickly grasp the detail. It’s great for the family too, but my contact with family is through video chat or audio calls through an app.
Sure, business calls are different, but there is an office line for that. Mobile calls can be arranged or for emergencies.
Cold calling and the rise of social media have made voice communication a very personal thing. If you invade someone’s world and they are not ready to speak or they are busy it can come across as an intrusion.
There are things we want to say but can’t say directly on the phone.
This is true especially for us Brits! Social Media, email and all the other communication apps out there allow us experiment with our personalities. We can think and prepare our thoughts. This is especially true if you are a nervous person or an introvert. Some think that is a bad thing, I personally feel it can be liberating as it gives you a chance to be whom you want to be, even if your feeling a little unsure of yourself.
Making a complaint on the phone, for example, is a big battle for some. Some companies have people trained to minimise or dismiss complaints (banks as an example).
Email and social media are great for enabling you to complain firmly. It is true to say those who speak the loudest usually get heard, if you are not one of those types, phone calls can be daunting and you can easily get fobbed off.
Whatever you think of voice calls as a medium, it is interesting to see their transition from the mass-market voice communication method to a deeply personal, even private communication method. In the years to come, I think voice calls will diminish further and will become more and more personal.
At some point, we will see the death of the mobile phone number in favour of a username. Currently, the phone number and sim card is something which slows down the process of changing networks, so I think it will be around for a little while longer.