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I can go for days without talking on the phone.
The telephone, the most revolutionary of inventions, the magical array of wires and waves that allows conversation between people who are nowhere near each other, has become obsolete. Who talks on the phone anymore? What is the point of my 900-minute mobile plan? It used to be not nearly enough. We have moved on to email and MMS. The world is silent with people staring hopefully at screens, waiting for something to happen. It turns out we prefer to be more impersonal and less confrontational. Given the opportunity to communicate in text, we take it. Given the chance to avoid discussing it, we are thrilled. We are lousy.
And we are crazy. There is nothing better than a phone call for taking care of business or creating pleasure. Our humanity is in our voices. Which is why so many people prefer phone sex to the real thing. And why it is such a great way to fall in love. What will become of the hours we used to spend flirting on the phone? What will become of conversation? The ring that interrupted dinner, the nervous teenage boy on the other end who was hoping the girl might answer and then got stuck asking for her when Dad picked up, the butterflies of waiting for her to come grab the receiver, the whole wreck of courtship: It is all over. Now he sends an iMessage to her iPhone, and what’s the big deal? Spellcheck turns hello into heave-ho, but what is the worst thing that can happen?
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The telephone is butterflies and fireflies, it is the fluttering lights of courtship. It is the bad joke she laughed at anyway, because love is polite. True love, the real thing, is laughing all the time. Boy meets girl and girl meets boy. Then comes kissing and you know the rest, but it is tons of talking. If the conversation is great, the getting naked part will be even better.
Typing is not talking. It is so easy to respond to a text. How do you know if it’s love?
There are places where the phone rings all the time: newsrooms and emergency rooms. When we are on deadline or when it is a matter of life and death, we call. It is faster. It is more efficient. It is the best way to get things done. On a trading floor at a Wall Street firm, where millions or billions of dollars are at stake, the men in their shirtsleeves and loosened ties and pomade hair are on the phone all the time. When the hedge fund mogul Steven Cohen was accused of insider trading, he claimed ignorance because he does not read his email. Busy people—the ones who are in it for the money—just pick up the receiver and shout orders.
My whole life can be explained by the phone calls I dared to make. When I was 22, I called the editor of The New Yorker and asked for a job—and it took some doing, but I got what I wanted. When I was 23, I phoned a powerful agent and asked him to represent me—and because he was not expecting it, he said yes. The world works in a simple way: You get what you ask for. People will agree to the craziest hullabaloos, but you have to demand magic. You have to plead your case, courageously. It is hard to say no to a bold proposition, to an adamant plan. It is impossible to say no if you make it impossible to say no. You have to call. If you are wondering why your life is stuck and nothing ever happens, it is because you did not call.
Going through your inbox takes time. We prefer it because we love to waste time. Facebook would not exist if we did not truly, madly, deeply love to waste time. We are surely crazy: The only thing we can’t get more of is time. Blithely unaware of our own mortality, happily forgetting the specter of death, blissfully ignoring the inevitable, we surf the Internet when we should be falling in love or making money or going for a lovely leg-stretch on a bright shiny day. We buy eye shadow we don’t need, we look at tweets that say nothing, we read about Amanda Bynes. We take the time to thumb in a message because it is still easier than calling, because, well, who needs it? What a pain to talk.
What a pain to be alive.
Elizabeth Wurtzel is the author of Prozac Nation, Bitch and More, Now, Again. Her latest book is Creatocracy: How the Constitution Invented Hollywood