I called back everyone who texted me for a week
Hopes&Fears challenged a writer to call everyone who texted her for one week. Her friends are still wondering what happened.
Most young people regard a phone call as an emergency measure; a call to action, immediately. We ignore the worth of phone calls’ potentially good qualities like efficiency or sincerity. Unexpected phone calls in particular are intercepted with panic and dread. So in an unconscious effort to not alienate people we want or have in our lives, we embrace passive, polite texting as a default way to reach out. What would happen if I returned to embrace this antiquated communication channel? Hopes&Fears challenged me to call everyone who texted me for a week and like with a lot of the unwieldy challenges I've accepted in my life, I immediately regretted my decision.
I started on a Tuesday morning and the first round went swimmingly. A friend, Kellie, texted about dinner and tattoo plans. I responded immediately, stepping away from my office desk, and called. We coordinated a design, a shop, and an appointment time — all in under two minutes. And we parted with a quick, friendly, “I love you! Have a great day.” Such pleasantries and efficiency! I wondered why I didn’t start such a practice earlier. As morning grew warmer and closer to lunch, more texts trickled in. I couldn’t reply immediately because I kinda value having a job and all (I did warn my boss about the experiment for the same reason). My sister texted a photo of her baby, an old roommate asked about a pie recipe, a dude I’ve been seeing wished me well for the day. During a pee break, I called the former roomie. Despite the time passing since her initial text (and her own job), she answered.
“Hey. Did you want my mom’s pecan pie recipe? That one we made a few years ago?”
“Shit yeah. That’d be dope.”
“Great, I’ll email it to you.”
“Thanks! I love you. Byyye.”
“Love you back. Byyye.”
Boom. Another successful exchange but this one in less than a minute.
Next I tried my sister, but no dice. Then the dude.
“Hi. You have a good day, too.”
“(Laughs) OK. Thanks.”
That one took about 10 seconds. I impressed myself with the speed at which this could all happen and also the frequency in which I had platonic friends telling me they loved me before hanging up. Despite the extra effort of calling, it seemed moderately chill.
When hanging up with dude friend person, I accidentally called my friend Max. He responded via text, “Sup?” I called again to tell him it was a mistake. He texted again, “Are you OK? Do I need to step out of this meeting?” It reminded me of the life-and-death urgency our generation has adopted for phone calls without prior warning, so I texted him that I was fine.
Later that night I had a meeting with my writing group. When we broke for the evening, I walked to my car to find the passenger side seat littered with glass confetti, the moonlight illuminating it like some mocking disco ball. Someone cracked open the window and took a bunch of shit, so for the second time in my life, I called 911. A distressed tweet summoned a number of concerned texts, each of which I responded to with an increasingly annoyed phone call. This was the first time I felt very inconvenienced with the experiment. Driving home with a shower liner slammed in the door, loudly flapping in the wind from Grant Park to Kirkwood, I groped around for my car-bound gum. The thieves took that, too, apparently. I took the next red light for my second rule-breaking of this experiment: to text some complaints to my dad.
day 1 summary
I woke up exhausted Wednesday, fuzzy from the two melatonins I slugged down when finally getting home around 1 am after talking to a APD officer and filling out a report. I considered my danger-zone car with the still-missing window and sent an office-wide email re: working from home. A flurry of well-wishing texts from nice colleagues roll through and I responded to a few with texts, as clearly this day was not a day for winning. I called an especially trusty co-worker as she hunted down my work passwords at my office desk — you know, where professionals keep such information. I’m on the phone with my insurance person, glass repair companies, and my dad a lot of the morning. So texting isn’t a big issue.
I tried to call a few friends who reach out via text but only a few answer because not all of us take Wednesday to work from the couch while donning our finest sweatpants. A Twitter friend in L.A. texted me something about a tweet and shockingly, he answers when I call.
And more conversation. I’d add more direct quotes but as I’m not drawing from recorded specifics — like, say, a text chain — I can’t do so accurately all the time. We had a nice conversation which, at the time, I feel covers a lot of territory. We caught up a little about respective jobs, nuances of dating, whether or not I’d visit the West Coast soon. We hang up and I check my call log: eight minutes. To pack such info via text would have probably taken two hours — possibly one if done late enough at night and coupled with a few bourbons.
A colleague texted about a ridiculous photo I posed in for our newspaper’s holiday guide. I call.
“(Delirious laughter.) (Whooshing, driving sounds.)”
Then this text:
I start actively ignoring texts. It’s kind of cheating but please know that also during this time I find it acceptable — nay, vital — to Instacart a 24-pack of La Croix, bleach, and an industrial-sized box of high-fiber cereal. I was in a bad place, guys. In the meantime, I had deadlines piling up and promised myself to a friends’ reading. I can’t gather the nerve to call, so I email. I could have texted, but then I’d have to call — which I actively do not want to do, saddled with crushed seltzer cans and the glass repair bill.
I consider how much tougher it used to be to bail on plans, on friends, before texting took over every other form of communication. I feel decidedly bad and go to sleep at 8 pm.
DAY 2 SUMMARY
I make and break and continue to tailor dinner plans with a friend via email about a dozen times through a highly shitty morning — but this is normal, not me avoiding texting or calling, like yesterday.
I solidified happy hour plans to two different friends on GChat. Driving over, one starts a group text. Fuck — group text. The exact thing I was most nervous about … and the exact thing I was plain refusing to participate in with a long-existing chain between me and three close college girlfriends. I called Gray, the friend who started it.
“Hi. I’m looking for parking.”
You know — that conversation ain’t really worth recounting. After two rounds we part. I head home to feed my cat and call the third friend re: tardiness. I arrive, we cook, we eat, then we drink way too much homemade wine with way too high ABV. The dude I scared on Tuesday with the “you have a good day, too” call also lives there so we all keep boozing and I stay over, letting drunkenness excuse me from replying to texts for the remainder of the evening.
DAY 3 SUMMARY
A friend, Rebekah, texts about a story idea she has. I call but she texts she’ll have to call back later — the high school where she works has intense cellphone-blocking so she’ll have to walk out to her car in the parking lot, far from her classroom, to chat. I officially feel like an asshole for the inconvenience.
The work day is fast-paced and super busy. My editor for this story texts, too, knowing I’ll have to call. He answers cackling. We, like the Twitter friend Wednesday, catch up sufficiently, IMO — in just four minutes, as it turns out. I also have a very quick call with a local artist I vaguely know through work and Tumblr after he texts me about his upcoming show. We had never spoken on the phone, prior. I wonder if he thought me calling was weird because he kept it brief and sent a few follow-up texts after hanging up … which I did not respond to. Because I did not/could not call him again so soon.
I have plans to meet Max at an art gallery Friday night to see Rebekah’s band play. He’s late and when he texts updates, I call back with increasing impatience. This spikes when a man inexplicably dressed in a knight costume trails me around the gallery lobby.
DAY 4 SUMMARY
I’m so fucking tired of this experiment. I have completely stopped initiating any text communication because I cannot handle the volume of calls a response would necessitate. I pray friends log on to GChat or check their email over the weekend.
Caroline picks me up and we head to a craft festival downtown. It’s a nightmare linking up with a third short friend — especially as the three of us splinter off and prove impossible to find again via phone call. I start texting the two of them with wild abandon because this is almost ruining my life at this point.
DAY 5 SUMMARY
Then Sunday happens. I am getting significantly less texts than the previous days and when I call Caroline for the 30th or so time that week, she acts like she’s joking but her tone sounds serious.
“I love this.”
“Is this your new thing? Calling people all the damn time?”
I couldn’t front and crumble when the dude friend person is out of the room. “It’s for a story, I’ll explain later,” I say with a huff. I let my participation in the aforementioned, long-standing text thread dissipate. Surprisingly, besides Caroline still acts like this is normal.
DAY 6 SUMMARY
LAST DAY HOLY SHIT LAST DAY. When I was drunk Friday night, I spilled the deal to Max who in turn, punishes me with a storm of rapid-fire texts throughout the day. I decide we are no longer friends. Dude friend person has mostly stopped texting me, opting instead to call — which makes sense as this crazy person (me) has made it clear through example that’s the only way worth communicating.
DAY 7 SUMMARY
This experiment yielded mixed-results. I mostly aimed to just shake up folks with the novelty of an actual telephone call. Some cases are surprisingly pleasant, opening the path for more intimate conversation — details that’d never make the parameters of text-based communication. That’s a really pleasant discovery, learning how little time it takes to feel reconnected with another human.
It was also nice to be forced to be deliberate in my communication. Instead of dropping a line here and there across the country to check in on friends, I have to commit to a specific presentness with a finite number of people. It’s refreshing to let my social circle shrink and settle to a manageable size. In the same vein, it forces focus on a very limited amount of romantic or sexual prospects. That sounds insane to verbalize, but honestly, how easy is it to reach out to that hot sex person you boned on vacation while tipsy at the bar and waiting for your date to return from the bathroom? Very easy. Shutting down those temptations at their very half-assed, whiskey-soaked core was a powerful practice in self-control. That sense of presentness transcended into all social situations — the non-sex ones, too — that helped foster more meaningful IRL time with people.
But overall, this experiment tested the patience threshold of relationships. Although the intent behind phone calls may be considerate, they rarely shake out with a similar impact. Unless you know for sure the other person is free and also in the mood to converse in real time, it’s asking a lot. It comes off as a smidge demanding or desperate at worst, an inconvenience at best.
Post-experiment, while laying glamorously on my couch with corn chips, dude friend person calls. “So you’ve turned me into a caller,” he says. I come clean about the experiment but the calls — from him and others — continue. And as a general rule, I don’t totally hate it.