March 23, 2018

We Don’t Talk Anymore

On this day in 1929, the most famous office in the world, The Oval Office, had a telephone installed.

The once indispensable piece of office equipment has now reached the afternoon of its relevance and can probably see a trip to the technology graveyard on the horizon. One reason for this is the shift in the technology itself but far more interesting has been the shift in how we communicate.

In 2015, something very interesting happened to the way that we communicate. (Note – by ‘we’ I mean ‘Western’, as we rely on the big US stats for better insights. – Ed.) So, in 2015, we saw for the first time, that there were more households that were completely wireless than there were houses that had a mix of mobile and landline communication. The gap is widening as more and more people give up their landlines completely.

The other change we are seeing is being led by Millenials, who are wireless natives. They don’t have a landline experience. Their lives have been fully wireless and fully connected. Yet. They don’t talk on the phone and the reasons why are worth exploring.


If you are part of a generation that has ‘adopted’ technology, it is hard to conceive how texting could be ‘faster’ than a quick phone call. The Millenial native, however, picks up a smartphone at a young age and builds pace and proficiency through text muscle memory. See how quickly a 15-year-old can text. See how instinctively a toddler swipes and enters a passcode to unlock Mummy’s iPhone.

Texting gets the message sent, rapidly, without the need to waste time talking about the sports team, the flu that’s going around, or the weather. Message sent; message delivered; message read: all in micro-minutes.


It seems that there are new rules of etiquette when it comes to phone calls. Once upon a time, you took the time to call and speak to people BECAUSE you cared about their needs. Yet, according to research, many Millenials perceive a traditional phone call as ‘rude’ or ‘obtrusive’.

I can only deduce that as the world has become faster and noisier, Millenials feel the need to ‘protect’ their time. Technology, and indeed the argument for texting as an efficiency, was supposed to give us more time, and it seems we like to be in complete control of how we spend that time. In business, we see it being common to text ahead and arrange a ‘phone’ meeting so that the time applied to the activity has been allocated in a very democratic way.

Someone else making a unilateral decision to call us, at a time that suits them, without regard or understanding of whether that time is convenient for the receiver or the phone call…has become ‘disruptive’, ‘selfish’ or even ‘arrogant’. It is a weird anthropological pivot over such a short period of time – it is a significant social change within one generation.


In the wake of Cambridge Analytica, this is an interesting one. Without opening a can of worms about the security of cloud data and the ethics of stealing data and using it to influence major world events…tsk…there is definitely a perception that phone calls are not private.

How often do you see people, especially our Millenial subjects, walk out of the room to take a phone call? Or to make one? Most of those phone calls would not be matters of state security, but certainly, the personal mobile phone has increased our desire for completely personal communication. A phone call broadcasts one half of the dialogue to whomever else may be around…where a text message is a narrowcast from device to device; between users.

It seems that we don’t talk anymore, not like we used to. OK. We still talk to Nan on the phone. She probably has a landline and she likes it when we call. Call your Nan if you are lucky enough to have one to call.