It was 2007. The year that I was introduced to MTNL’s magical Garuda services, which granted me the ability to chat with my friends for hours without racking up a monstrous phone bill. And to say I exploited my free minutes would be a gross understatement. Having grown up in an era where phone calls cost 8 bucks a minute, I was accustomed to devoting an impressive portion of my attention to the duration of a call – even when my friend and I were passionately discoursing on the subtle differences between dragons and wyverns. Once we were introduced to, what I then considered a blessing by the telecommunication industry, our discussions took on a more languid tone; we now dared to also include lindwurm and amphiptere in the mix during our reverent conversations on fantasy reptilian species. Fourteen years later, I can’t help but wonder if this excision of urgency from the equation caused phone calls to lose their veneer of novelty.
Okay, that’s putting it euphemistically. In all honesty, I now despise calls. I actually don’t have the faintest idea of what my ringtone sounds like because my phone is always on silent; my call log bears an uncanny resemblance to my school calendar – the red missed call notifications evocative of my teachers’ scarlet-stained remarks; I’m constantly inventing new excuses for why I haven’t been taking calls (my favourite one is: “My two-year-old niece is sleeping next to me” even though that child could sleep through a death metal concert in truth).
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If I had to trace the origin of this unrelenting hatred towards talking on the phone, it would have to be my early career in Public Relations, where it was customary to begin every morning with a round of cold-calling. The vapid, vicious cycle of hopefully pitching your clients to disinterested journalists, only to have them cut you off with a brusque “Can you send me an email about this” was enervating.
Illustration via: Gemma Correll
Of course, other life experiences have contributed to this deep-rooted aversion to telephonic conversations. Foremost is the barrage of hackneyed birthday wishes. I don’t mean to sound thankless, but an inexplicable fury grips me somewhere between the eighth and fortieth call of delineating my plans for the day or lack thereof. There are only so many times I can politely titter when I’m asked, “Where is the cake?!” The simplest solution I could think of was to switch my phone off on said day, but disgruntled friends and relatives who couldn’t manage to get hold of me on D-Day (B-Day?) thought it wise to call me the next day and ask me what I’d done the previous day which essentially defeated the entire purpose of the exercise.
A quick Google search diagnoses me with early-stage phone anxiety. Phone anxiety – or telephobia – is the fear and avoidance of phone conversations, and it’s common among those with social anxiety disorder, I read on. But I’m great in public, I think to myself, remembering my glory days in drama class. I also don’t manifest the majority of the symptoms of phone anxiety, like nausea, increased heart rate or muscular tension although I do tend to get light-headed and particularly distracted around the two-minute mark. There is also the case of being filled with unquenchable rage when the person on the opposite end refuses to come to the point of the conversation and tries to keep me on the phone even after my fifth “Anyway, I gotta go now.” When the lockdown came into effect last March, a few of my friends who suffer from social anxiety waxed eloquent about the salubrious effects of retreating into their safe cocoons for extended periods of time. But for someone who has phone anxiety, self-isolating and working from home has turned out to be quite the nightmare with the phone ringing off the hook. Managers constantly call for updates, HR coerces you into attending Zoom (video!) calls for counterproductive morale-boosting and family members allay their fears for your health by checking in on you every few hours. I know I should feel grateful for all this concern, but the only emotion I am capable of currently processing is the cold sense of dread creeping up on me as my phone screen lights up with a call yet another time. When it gets too overwhelming, I fervently tap the flight mode icon like it’s the only thing standing between me and a nervous breakdown. On some days, it truly is.
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