I recently tweeted about my acute dislike of the phone. A friend asked me to explain myself. I said I would do so in a blog post because it’s that rare thing that a series of tweets cannot quite capture.
So here goes…
All of my friends have horror stories of trying to get in touch with me. After overcoming the daily gauntlet of picking up the phone and getting a ringing tone (a gauntlet on account of all the problems bestowed on them so freely by our telecom providers), it is common for me not to pick up.
One friend recently pointed out that you’re far more likely to get a reply from me by sending me a tweet than by calling me. That was when it really hit me: I love Twitter.
More importantly however, I realized that I must have some kind of hatred for – or fear of – the mobile phone. Sounds strange – even to me – but the evidence is somewhat overwhelming.
I suspect that it began before I was at Joy FM, but it certainly got worse there. People who work at Joy easily find their numbers entering general circulation. This often results in random phone calls of the strangest possible kind from people who – if you’re lucky – have a lead to a news story (this is very rare), or who – if you’re not so lucky – like anything from the sound of your voice to the way you breathe into a mic. After umpteen such calls, I picked up the (bad) habit of ignoring numbers that I did not recognize, and told all of my people to send me a text if they ever made the mistake of calling me from a strange number.
I think the result of all of this is I have come to hate being immediately accessible to people. I prefer you leaving me some kind of message that allows me to decide when and in what form I want to get in touch with you. When people put pressure on me to be immediately accessible, it somehow makes me suspicious of them, unless I know they can expressly give me a genuinely important reason. Every single time.
I often find myself walking out of rooms to make or receive phone calls. Strangely, this is not because I have anything shady to talk about (I wish). It can be for something as mundane as making an appointment to meet someone for business, and it mostly happens in working environments. It is as though I become acutely aware that there are other people in the room who are listening in on the conversation, and making judgments on how I carried it out. Imagine going to a job interview where you get asked to make a phone call to a client in front of a panel of three judges, all writing notes while you talk. That is how I feel. All the time.
Of course, I realize that this is a completely irrational fear. Nevertheless, this is what goes on in my mind. It’s a daily battle. I sometimes win.
I enjoy turning off my phone. It is something that I do far less than people may think. If you cannot get through to me, it’s probably not because I’ve turned off my phone. It could be the telecom company or because my battery died. Once or twice a year however, it may actually be because I have turned my phone off altogether. I call these ‘phone holidays’ and I take them – unannounced (they are never planned. They just happen) – when I need a break from everything and everyone. Some people stress out when their phones are off. Not I. I feel an acute sense of freedom; the mental equivalent of chilling on a beach while sipping on an endless stream of cool, sweet-tasting cocktails presented to me by an equally endless stream of beautiful, conversation-saavy women before an unspeakably beautiful ocean view.
I have no idea where any of these habits come from (except Strike 1). I have had them for years. When I was a child and my father moved from London to Ghana, he would only call us at Christmas and on birthdays. I had no problems with this. In fact, I would look forward to them. It has become quite the norm amongst me and most of my siblings. Constant calling doesn’t show that you care. It just makes you a constant caller. On the flipside, my mother would later move to Geneva, and she spoke to me almost every day. I enjoyed that too. So that can’t be it. That said, I have a very different idea of missing people and the nature of friendship. I have no problems with long silences. They make catching up all the more fun, as you have more to talk about. Most of my friends have become used to this: I am not that guy who calls all the time. I am that guy who you can call when you really need help, who will bend over backwards to be there for you.
Having alternatives hasn’t helped…
I love writing. I live in my head a lot and find it a much better way of expressing my truest, innermost thoughts. Advantages? Nobody interrupts my train of thought. I don’t forget anything I want to say. Disadvantages? There is a written record of everything I write (evidence that can and will be used against me). This makes me very careful about what I set to paper. I think about every single sentence and every word I put down. Is this what I meant to say? How precisely does it capture the thought I am trying to express? Is it cliché? Can I say it better some other way? I have asked myself these questions for so long that they are now instinctive and have made me better at writing than I am at talking, where my train of thought can be interrupted or where I may forget a point. It has actually helped to improve the thinking behind my speaking.
However, give me a choice between writing and talking? Writing wins.
I do love a long, rambling conversation, but most of the time I find that people do not have much to say that cannot be summed up in an SMS or a tweet. So I do not understand it when people tell me that I am inaccessible when all they did was try to call me, when they could have sent me a tweet, a text or a whatsapp message. I start to take such people less seriously. The same applies to emails, really. I find myself piling them up, then taking one day to clear through all of them. I find this cathartic. I really don’t know why.
I do love Twitter. Unlike Facebook, it brings me all these streams of various forms of information in one place. Importantly, it does so in short, succinct bursts: small pieces of information from several sources, instead of big chunks from a few. You choose what you want to hear more about and do so by following a link to a bigger article, or by engaging someone in conversation. Facebook – in my mind – is a place for people who enjoy and are easily distracted by pretty pictures. Twitter is sleek and minimalist. If you are not getting anything out of it, it says more about you and what you allow onto your timeline than it says about Twitter. Maybe you roll with #TeamFollowback and allow simply anyone to clutter your timeline. To each their own. I am very selective about who I follow and what I want to see on my timeline. It makes the whole thing a very pleasurable experience.
My friend was right.
You are much more likely to get a response from me if you send me a direct message (DM) on Twitter. I recently came across someone who has removed the SIM card from his phone altogether and just uses Wifi to ensure that he is online all the time. I looked at the man like someone meeting Albert Einstein for the first time. Yesterday, I heard about someone who does not even put their number on their business card. Yes, I may lose business. But my life is not business-centered so I think I can live with that. After all, it works just fine for Kwasi Twum – the wealthy owner of the Multimedia Group (Joy FM, myjoyonline, MultiTV, Adom, Asempa, Luv FM, etc, etc) who famously lacks a phone too.
Weird? I know. But how for do? It’s how I feel. I do seek to improve myself, but I rarely apologize for the person that I am. I am very at peace with myself. On the balance of things, I’m told that I’m a good and likable person. I have flaws that I live with and hope others can too. If they cannot, they can decide not to have me in their lives and I will not begrudge them for it. This philosophy is what makes me the chilled out, no-sweat-no-stress person that I am told that I am. I have learned to love myself, flaws included.
This phone thing? Well… I’ve kept the damn thing so far, haven’t I? You can’t ask for much more than that.
If you’re lucky? You’ll get through to me.
If you’re someone I speak to often? Luckier you.
Another close friend suggested that perhaps I should just let people know about how I feel about all of this.
That is what I have done here.