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A call to pick up the phone

Our challenge to you telephobes: Use your phone three times this next week.
Our challenge to you telephobes: Use your phone three times this next week.
  • We're heavily reliant on our myriad means of written communication
  • Digital communication -- tweets, Facebook messages, e-mails -- are fraught with peril
  • Big benefit of talking instead of typing is saving time

Editor's note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and book Stuff Hipsters Hate. When they're not trolling Brooklyn for new material, Ehrlich works as an associate editor at and Bartz is news editor at Psychology Today.

(CNN) -- Let's talk about your last cell phone bill.

Somewhere on there is a timer of the minutes you spent yammering away on the phone -- not texting, not surfing the net, but actually engaging in voice-to-voice communication.

Unless you talk to your mom every night or are in a long-distance relationship (to either case, I condescendingly say, "... really?"), you probably used all of about 19 minutes in the last month -- rounded-up snatches of 47-second-long convos, quick fumbling exchanges as you tried to figure out if Johnny had made it to the show yet or if your favorite scarf had surfaced at that sticky bar from late last night.

We're so heavily reliant on our myriad means of written communication these days that the phone call threatens to go the way of the handwritten letter. And this, dear readers, is a terrible thing.

We get it: The phone is scary. (I'm arching my eyebrows especially at you, Generation Y.)

In an extremely informal poll, 100% of the people I bothered on G-chat consider themselves "bad on the phone."

But as we've noted before, digital communication -- tweets, Facebook messages, e-mails and the like, are fraught with peril -- a tangled worldwide Web of miscommunication, bungles and snafus.

So this is our challenge to you telephobes: Use your phone three times this next week.

Yes, you may sound a little nervous or talk over the other person. You'll also be amazed at how thoroughly and efficiently you can take care of things when you give your carpal tunnel-wracked paws a rest and let your voice box do the talking. Why? Let me count the ways.

First off, you'll pick up all sorts of subtle information. We're social creatures, but for much of evolution, instant communication involved talking face-to-face.

So our brains evolved to be incredibly masterful people-readers -- we can instantly, and quite accurately, read emotions in others' faces and body language, and respond accordingly.

Even sound carries a lot of emotional info; people can correctly identify not only basic emotions like anger and fear but also super-specific feelings like embarrassment, awe and interest in quick, wordless "vocal bursts," according to research published in the journal Emotion.

Online communication? Not quite so telling (and no, emoticons do not help). And not only do we not understand each other, we still think we're understanding one another just fine.

In a 2005 study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people who wrote one-sentence e-mails were supremely overconfident in both their ability to communicate and their ability to detect sarcasm, seriousness, anger and sadness over e-mail.

"Netspeak represents a largely inadequate mode of communication, one characterized by informality to the point of sloppiness, curtness to the point of rudeness, and a childlike avoidance of complex ideas," psychiatrist Elias Aboujaoude writes in his new book, "Virtually You."

On the phone, however, the odds of misunderstanding one another plummet. Suddenly, "We can totally see that movie if you want!" sounds like "(Sigh) We can totally see ... that movie ... if you want."

And if you are a smart significant other, you can choose another flick and sidestep an evening of listening to haughty sighs.

A related benefit: On the phone, you get an early gauge of your interactions. This was true in the era of blind dates and it's true in this era of online dating (which is basically a series of not-quite-blind-but-basically-myopic dates, right?)

No matter how many witty messages you've exchanged, a 10-minute phone call will show if you have the same sense of humor, if there's a certain kindness or curiosity or whatever in his or her voice, and if he/she has an unacceptably weird tone or prosody or accent. (Kidding on the last one. Sort of.)

And if chatting is a blast, you can be that much more confident going into your first meet-up.

Think of it this way: Ever conducted a job interview over the phone?

You get less info than if you'd met the candidate in person, but a hell of a lot more info than if you'd hired based on a resume and cover letter alone. And it's thanks to those intangibles -- subtle conveyors of personality -- in the spoken word.

The last big benefit of talking instead of typing is saving time. This is especially true in the complicated pas de deux of work e-mails -- you can have a long volley to figure something out (a plan, a meeting, a detail, whatever), or you can pick up the phone and just hash it out.

The same thing is true of making plans with friends: A quick discussion of mutually convenient times beats the slow back-and-forth of texted possibilities:

Person 1: "Great! How's Monday?"

Person 2: "Rats, Monday's no good for me. Wednesday?"

Person 1: "Can't do Wednesday but maybe Friday?"

Person 2: "I could do early Friday."

Person 1: "What's early?"

Person 1: (bangs head against desk repeatedly)

Sure, there are some programs out there to eliminate the back-and-forth -- if you both use Google calendars, the Smart Rescheduler automatically finds mutual free time -- but for the most part, real-time planning is the time- and annoyance-saving option.

Thirty years ago, newspaper columnists weren't trotting out weekly treatises on telephone etiquette, and yet here we are, regularly pointing out all the ways you're lousing up your e-communication. (Much to the chagrin of some of you -- hi, guys!)

That's because -- surprise! -- the phone is actually really easy. So stop tapping out long texts, puzzling over how to fit a complex thought into a 140-character DM, and panicking when a friend you've just texted calls -- hitting "silence" and then later claiming you were in a library and couldn't pick up.

Become the person who calls in response to a text. Silent missives are great, but before our vocal chords get all rusty from disuse, let's make telephobia a thing of the past.


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