Are you 16 to 24 years old and hate phone calls? Do you wait hours for your phone to stop ringing and let out a sigh of relief when it finally stops? You’re not alone, and you are a part of generation mute.
The phone call is slowly fading away and instead has been taken over by FaceTime, Zoom, Snapchat or WhatsApp.
This phenomenon only came into light when Ofcom (the UK’s Office of Communications) conducted a survey in 2017 and found that only 15 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds prefer phone calls, and 36 per cent of them favour instant messaging. Another indication of the demise of phone calls is ringtones. A survey done by UK-based tech and data analyst Sensor Tower has shown that ringtone downloads from 2016 to 2020 reduced from 4.6 million to 3.7 million.
Before we start moaning about how anti-social and socially incompetent Gen Z is, maybe we should realise that this generation is probably more connected than ever? They are in constant contact with a larger group of people and can even do it simultaneously while multi-tasking. Something deemed impossible pre-smartphone era.
Instant messaging is quick and easy. No one enjoys waiting on hold for customer service, the incessant spam calls, and let's face it a ringing phone is annoying.
But why are they avoiding phone calls? Are there deeper reasons, or is it just a better alternative mode of communication?
Why Gen Z is not picking up the phone
In this fast-paced world, phone calls can be time-consuming and also irritating at times for most Gen Z.
For Amal Al Jawini, a 22-year-old college student from Saudi Arabia studying in the UAE, instant messaging is the preferred method of communication not just for her but for all her friends and family. She said: “Most of my friends and family I talk to prefer it too. It’s less abrupt than a phone call. You can always check your messages later. Also, it is easier to share media, links and gifs, which makes the conversation fun and entertaining.”
According to Samrin Fatima, a recently graduated 21-year-old based in Dubai, texting is easy and quick. She said: “I prefer messaging over calling because texts are free, and you do not have to bring up unnecessary information to drag on the conversation like one would have to do when you’re calling someone.”
Having the pressure to carry on the conversation and the awkwardness of ending a phone call is one of the reasons why Gen Z avoids phone calls. A gif or meme easily communicate someone’s emotions.
But there’s a deeper meaning behind all of this. There is a certain apprehension young people feel when making and taking a call. This may have something to do with being brought up during the age of the internet and smartphones.
Phone calls leave no rooms for errors, but while texting you can delete your messages and erase them forever.
Pooja Kumar a 22-year-old medical student from Liverpool told gulfnews.com: “I like texting because you can plan out what you want to say and edit it. I’m more used to texting rather than calling, and it makes me more comfortable.”
I like texting because you can plan out what you want to say and edit it. I’m more used to texting rather than calling, and it makes me more comfortable.
Gen Z does not know a life outside of that and their whole life has been consumed by the rise of social media. This deters their ability to connect with others and can also lead to debilitating anxiety when trying to communicate with people in real life and even on the phone.
The fear of making and taking phone calls
There is a name for this condition and it is often called ‘telephonophobia’. This can be compared to glossophobia (speech anxiety).
Dr Saliha Afridi, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of Lighthouse Arabia, a Dubai-based mental health and wellness clinic says that telephonophobia or telephobia is different from your average stress and nervousness.
She said: “While there is no formal diagnosis of telephobia, all phobias are persistent and excessive fears of a situation or person, in this case, phobia of using the telephone to have a conversation. It is important to note that phobias are not a normal level of discomfort or nervousness one experiences when doing something outside of their comfort zone, but rather a deep sense of dread when encountering the thing that they are afraid of, to the point of total avoidance of that particular object, place or person.”
Just picking up the phone can be a Herculean task for people with telephobia because they’re worried about what people at the other end of the line think about them.
For people suffering from telephobia, a simple phone can generate a chain reaction of anxiety and turbulent emotions.
This is actually on the rise among millennials and Gen Z. A survey from 2019 done by Face For Business (a UK telephone answering service) found that 70 per cent of millennials and Gen Z experience anxiety when answering the phone.
It is important to note that phobias are not a normal level of discomfort or nervousness one experiences when doing something outside of their comfort zone, but rather a deep sense of dread when encountering the thing that they are afraid of, to the point of total avoidance of that particular object, place or person
It’s hard to pin point why teleophobia is specifically affecting Gen Z, but this can all be attributed to social media usage.
Dr Afridi said: “It is hard to say why Gen Zs or millennials have a difficult time speaking on the phone but one possible reason could be that they came of age in the era of social media, where how they look and present to the world is filtered and curated precisely how they want it to be, whereas spontaneous conversations leave a lot more room for error and fault.”
Our constant glaring at our screens and lack of human communication via phone has riddled a generation with social anxiety.
How to cope with telephobia?
You can’t avoid talking on the phone forever. But to get over your fear, you have to come face to face with it, (or in this case ear to ear with it).
“The way to cope with any phobia is to confront it and do not avoid it or the fear does get bigger. One way to do this is to systematically desensitize yourself to the anxiety you experience by increasing the level of distress from zero to 10 when using the phone. For example, first try calling or answering the phone call of a friend. Then answer or call a person who is a distant relative or acquaintance. Then make a call or answer a person that you have not spoken to in a while. Then answer or call a person who evokes more anxiety (like a boss or a demanding family member). The goal being that with each level you go to, you increase the amount of anxiety you encounter. Stay at any level until you no longer feel anxious with that category of people calling you or you calling them,” said Dr Afridi.
The Gen Z’ers that prefer phone calls
Talking on the phone can sometimes help build confidence. Texting can never elicit the same emotions as talking to someone.
But there are some Gen Z’ers who want to talk and want their thumbs to take a break. Aarzoo Bhatia, a 22-year-old medical student from Liverpool is one of them. She said: “I prefer calls over texts because they're much quicker. With texts, you may have to wait hours to days for the same conversation you can do over calls within minutes. Calling also seems more personal, as I can hear the person or see their face. We also get so many texts in a day that important ones may get lost in all the other notifications. Calling also helps me get a break from constantly watching a screen to write long texts to multiple people.”
I prefer calls over texts because they're much quicker. With texts, you may have to wait hours to days for the same conversation you can do over calls within minutes. Calling also seems more personal, as I can hear the person or see their face.
Bhavya Bhatia and an 19-year-old college student from the UAE also seems to agree. He said: “It’s much easier to explain things over call and clear up any confusion at the same time, which is why I prefer calling my friends over texting them. I also prefer making plans overcall as people can take a long time just to respond to texts. I feel more understood and can communicate quicker over calls.”
It’s much easier to explain things over call and clear up any confusion at the same time, which is why I prefer calling my friends over texting them.
The uncertain future of phone calls
The end of the phone call is just a sign of the times. For some Gen Z, phone calls are disruptive and sometimes just downright irritating or some actually enjoy talking on the phone and just want to take a break from glaring at their screens. But the noise of the phone ringing for some can set off fear and trepidation.
But who knows what the way of communicating will be in the future. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp might become antiquated and a thing of the past. Phone calls might cease to exist in the relative future, but the memories of endless hours of phone calls with your loved ones will live on.