Does voicemail cripple our social agility?

Think about how many people you email during a day. How many people do you telephone?

In the average workplace, especially the mobile-enabled workplace, your phone is likely to display the caller’s ID, name or telephone number. This lets you know whether your boss, wife, husband, daughter, or a salesperson is calling, and it lets you decide whether to answer it or not.

Think about what it was like before voicemail and caller ID. Think of old movies. A person would walk to the ringing telephone on the wall, and fix a dreamy smile into space as they answered “hello?”. There was no pre-cognition. The call could be the postal service, or news of a loved ones’ death, or a simple friendly chat from Aunt Bea. They had to be prepared for anything and deal with it to their best ability.

Today, we’re able to look at the caller ID, and get excited, or nervous, or angry, and decide how we’re going to conduct the conversation before we even pick it up.

We enter the conversation pre-disposed by our conception of what the caller might want or need. Not necessarily as a blank page, greeting the caller optimistically and without bias. 

Before, if you were in the middle of writing a letter, and someone called to chat, you would have to either talk with the person or use all your best social graces to guide the conversation toward a pleasant close.

Now, you don’t need to keep those graces sharp, because caller ID lets you pre-filter who you’re ready and willing to talk to, every time.

Try turning off caller ID, and see how more alert you have to become.


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