It's Karen's Turn column: Talking on the phone again

The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

Over the past week, I talked to three friends on the phone.

One. Two. Three. Count 'em. Three.

For some of you, that might be quite unremarkable. You might talk to that many friends before lunch.

Whenever my phone rings, though, it’s almost always someone asking about my vehicle’s extended warranty.

It’s not that I don’t have friends. But we communicate quite differently nowadays, almost exclusively through social media.


About a week ago, I just craved the sound of a human voice. I posted about it on social media, and judging from the response I got, I’m not the only one, especially when getting together during a pandemic is such a challenge.

Interacting on social media has its strengths. It’s quick, and a conversation can take place whenever you have a minute to add to it. You can keep in touch with many more people than through traditional communications. It boosts the communication ability for those who can’t hear.

But I realized I needed my phone to ring. I needed the human voice. So many subtleties are lost on social media, and intimacies not shared for fear of public exposure. Typing reduces thoughts to only the visual sense and eliminates the richness of listening to another human voice.

In a phone conversation, you’ll hear drawls or verbal tics, intakes of breath, stuffed-up noses, kids or pets in the background, that teasing tone so difficult to capture in a text, fatigue, the struggle to sort through a new idea, the softness of grief, a peevish edge, the sudden ring of laughter, and relief — you’ll hear relief of someone unburdening themselves for a minute.

Phone conversations are more private than they used to be. When I was a kid, we had one phone, a white rotary dial one that hung on the kitchen wall, with a long curly cord. It rang off the hook, so to speak, and everybody knew who was talking to who. People called to share bad news, to invite you over, to ask if you’d seen their kid. “Hello?” we would answer, and then bellow up the stairs, “Barb! It’s for you!” Of course before my generation, privacy was even more scarce, when anybody in a given neighborhood could pick up the party line phone and listen in to someone else’s conversation.

Nowadays, I don’t answer my husband’s phone and he doesn’t answer mine, and our son, who is 8, doesn’t ever answer the phone. That means we don’t talk to each other’s friends or family members on the phone the way people used to.

So that community element of a phone conversation is gone.

But the pleasure remains.


Within the hour of my Facebook post, my phone rang, and it was a friend from Evansville. A few hours later, my phone rang again and it was a friend from Henning. Then a friend from Alabama wanted to talk. Many more people sent me their phone numbers and I promised to call each of them. My biggest challenge now is finding time to talk.

These conversations are filling a deep need for human connection, the need to listen, to share, to respond. I’ve gotten sound advice about parenting, the chance to vent, the ability to relate to someone else’s experience.

Best of all, not one of them asked about my vehicle’s extended warranty.

“It’s My Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

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