It’s been years since our landlines were taken out back and done away with — reincarnated as smartphones and text messages — but I’m here to announce the return of the phone call.
Until recently, casual calls had long been things of the past. While this was unfortunate for chatty Geminis like myself (and for the general aesthetic that is wrapping a curly cord around one’s finger while talking to a crush), it served as an immense relief for people with anxiety. Texts are quieter, slower, and make room for unobserved pauses. There’s even an entire genre of memes dedicated to the stress of either making or receiving phone calls.
Memes like these garner mad likes and tons of comments from people who can relate, which could spell a death knell for the call. But in the past year, I’ve noticed a subtle but undeniable resurgence of dialed-in communication among friends and around New York — a quick check-in here, a “hey I’m outside” there — and below are some cursory theories as to why this may be happening.
Scrolling, reading on a teeny tiny screen, taking in blinking notifications, constantly feeling a phone vibrating — it can all be so exhausting. Texting used to feel like a reprieve from daily expectations, but today typing has been completely subsumed as part of those expectations. Phone calls, however, hail from simpler times. When we were more in control of whether or not we engaged. When we were more in control of how accessible we were. In times like these, when we are all connected at all times, phone calls provide us with a kind of necessary distance — with boundaries that say, I am here now or I am not.
Texting is often hailed as quicker and more convenient, but I invite you to consider this scenario: Your boo’s on on their way to your apartment. You’re making dinner for the two of you but you’ve forgotten to buy broccoli — a vital ingredient. You know your boo will pass a grocery store when they come from the train, so you text and ask them to grab the broc on the way. They don’t see the text. They get to your apartment, sans veg, and y’all share a nutritionally unbalanced meal.
Maybe there was a time when text messages were read immediately, but in our current climate, that’s more so the exception. A call, however, is rare — and sometimes it’s the only way to get someone’s attention quick, fast and in a hurry.
Multiple recently published pieces have waxed poetic about the phone call. There’s this one by Marjon Carlos in which she refers to long phone conversations as vital to her happiness and this one by Danielle Lazarin in which she writes about how cathartic talking on the phone can be and there’s this interview in Haystack Stories in which a bookstore owner laments the “lost art” of the phone call. What these pieces all have in common is their nostalgic reverence (if we consider talking on the phone yet another piece of bygone cultural ephemera), their recognition that links to the past can also be used to heal the present/future, and their ability to recontextualize phone calls for modern use — catapulting phone calls from the realm of annoyance into the realm of self-care.
I swear to god if there’s not a Cardi B reference for every damn thing! Bear with me on for this one. First of all, as a New Yorker from the Bronx, I bet you any amount of money that Cardi likes to talk on the phone. It’s simply an indisputable fact that most New Yorkers from the outer boroughs enjoy phone chats! Anyone who’s walked down Fulton around 3:45 p.m. on a school day should be able to attest to this, and if not, just check for me during my 10-minute walk from train to apartment in Bed-Stuy. Nine times out of 10 I’ll be having a phone convo. On speaker. But I digress — back to Cardi’s Grammy-winning rap album Invasion of Privacy.
Track 8 is entitled “Ring.” No, it’s not about jewelry. Here’s the chorus:
You don’t hit my line no more, oh, oh
You don’t make it ring, ring, ring, ring
I can’t keep this on the low
I want you to make it ring, ring, ring, ring
Here’s the first two lines of the first verse:
Should I call first? I can’t decide
I want to, but a bitch got pride
Here’s the first two lines of the second verse:
Nah, n*gga now you gon’ have to call me (call me)
‘Cause I’m lookin’ at these messages, they all me (yeah)
This is a song, released in 2018, all about phone calls. Cardi B has been been a harbinger of cool since before she even got a bag and fixed her teeth — could she be effectively trend forecasting with this track?
What I’m trying to say is: Phone calls are in the cultural ether, and for good reason. Will they replace DMs? Who knows. But I’d argue they’re primed for a veritable resurgence. What do you think — are you a fan of talking on the phone? Do YOU think they’re making a comeback? Meet me in the comments to chat about it. Or just gimme a ring. ☎️
Photo by Keith Trumbo via Getty Images.