The New Phone Phobics Use Gizmos For Everything But Talking

Sarah Morrison, a Williamsburg resident in her late 20s who writes for Missbehave magazine, had no problem copping to the fact that she often ignores friends’ phone calls.

“I’ll sit there and watch the phone ring and be like, ‘UGH! Why are they calling?’” said Ms. Morrison, “99 percent” of whose plans are made via text, email or “BBM” (that’s BlackBerry Messaging for all you Luddites out there). “People definitely get annoyed.”

Doug Murray, 29, of Bushwick, who teaches middle school in the Bronx, has a similar habit. “Most often it takes two or three calls before I’ll call someone back,” said Mr. Murray, who usually emails from his T-Mobile Smartphone whenever he’s in a WiFi hot spot. The casual “catch-up” call, he said, is a thing of the past: “Even on friends’ birthdays, I’ll just send them an email or a text. It sounds pretty lame, but it’s a habit I’ve fallen into.”

Whoever thought we’d miss the cell-phone jerks yapping away on Starbucks lines and crowded intersections from Soho to the Upper West Side? More and more they’ve been replaced by a new and even more off-putting breed of zombielike technophiles; heads slouched downward at their palms; eyes glued to miniature computer screens; thumbs rapidly tapping away on the same devices that would have been pressed up against their ears a year or two ago.

Gabbing is out. These days, it’s straight to voice mail. And even when callers repeatedly dial their closest friends, it’s often not a ring tone they get in return, but a text message—“hey. you call?”—or a 10-word email ending in a phrase like “Sent from my BlackBerry.”

Yes, New Yorkers have come to loathe the act of talking on the phone. Why bother, when they can just type on a tiny touchscreen? It’s so convenient, so effortless—not like having a real conversation in which you actually have to listen and focus and respond. And suddenly people are keeping as much distance between their phones and their mouths as possible.

This sociological shift prompted the following inquiry on a Yahoo! Q&A forum on Nov. 23: “Why don’t people answer their cell phone[s] anymore?”

“I HATE talking on the phone,” wrote one New Yorker (presumably from his phone), within 30 seconds of receiving a reporter’s email asking the same question. “People call me and I text them back.”

“I don’t have a B-Ber or an iPhone and yet I seldom talk on the phone AT ALL,” another, Maureen Flynn, a 26-year-old corporate philanthropy consultant who lives in Queens, chimed in moments later. “I T9 like a champ!” she said of the letter-predicting technology used for quick and easy text-messaging.


STATISTICS CONFIRM that cell phones are getting more love from their owners’ thumbs than their lips. During the first six months of 2008, mobile users in the U.S. sent or received almost 385 billion text messages versus the 295 billion calls that were made from or received on cell phones, according to data from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, a trade organization that tracks wireless trends. It was the first time ever that text messages surpassed calls, said Bob Roche, the association’s vice president for research. Emailing and instant messaging from cell phones is also on the rise. In September of this year, 34 million Americans accessed email on their phones, versus 23 million in September of 2007, said Jaimee Steele, a spokeswoman for the digital media research firm ComScore. Likewise, 22 million people IM-ed from their phones this September versus 15 million during the same month a year earlier, according to ComScore’s data.

It seems like the fancier these smart phones become, the less they actually resemble, well … phones.

“We say every day that these are no longer just phones, they’re ‘personal communication devices,’” said David Samberg, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless, which just rolled out its latest BlackBerry, a touchscreen model called the Storm that has received poor reviews thus far. “They’re minicomputers.”

The New Phone Phobics Use Gizmos For Everything But Talking