Before working at Gotham, I had this huge phone anxiety. Though I actually prefer talking over the phone to texting, I don’t particularly like making customer service, doctor related, or any other type of “official” phone calls. Calling schools to ask for information, rescheduling appointments, seeing if something is in stock, getting clarification on a policy. I’ve always felt mousy and intrusive with my calls, as if I’m bothering my doctor, or the official organization or company I need information from. Saying it aloud, never mind writing it down, makes this sound silly, but when I pick up the phone to dial, it’s true.
Phones are inherently a disconnected connection. You’re talking to someone live—hopefully—but you’re not sensing any type of body language or energy. It’s not so much the significance of lacking a visual on the person; the real point is that the physical connection is not in any way there. Tone and attitude can be relayed over the phone, but context gets lost, because I don’t know what you’re really doing or what’s happening on your end, and you don’t know the same of mine. There’s also a lack of sympathetic quality over the phone, because even though tone and attitude can be picked up audibly, such things are still vulnerable to being misconstrued, even more so with this added interference of long-distance than in real life. There is essentially no place in life safe from the workings of miscommunication, but if you’re trying to resolve a relationship for instance, take this as first hand, and meet face-to-face.
It’s a mixture of a multitude of things really, another being that in this technology age where email, texts, and personal phone numbers leave one virtually open to contact on a 24/7 basis—no more heavy 10 PM rules of etiquette—people feel constantly accessible, so when they answer their phones they think it’s okay to rush you off. Whether the context of the call is professional or personal, the feeling and thought of being so openly accessible is already planted, and thus behavior follows as pattern regardless of what kind of phone call one is making or answering. I’ve made a series of phone calls this winter to inform people about canceled classes due to our snowpocalypse in NYC this year, and it’s interesting how many people really cut the phone call short. I sense it automatically, sense it before I even consciously acknowledge it, when people say in short, quick sequence, “Okay, okay,” expecting me to end it there, and now put on the clock, I spew out the rest of the need-to-know information I want to make sure they get.
Then there’re the people who talk over you. It’s difficult not to interrupt on the phone, because you don’t see a face and so can’t truly gauge if they’re done, so you take that break after what seems like a conclusion, and then they cut you off yet again.
The worst, I feel, are the environmental issues. Sounds of other people in the background, whether of mine or the other line or both. At which point this becomes aggravated by another issue of it’s own, being accents, tones of voice, and even personality that contribute to how low or high in volume someone is. Not to mention, it doesn’t help that I when I listen to Lady Gaga on the train ride home, I ram her up, so sometimes it’s my own hearing, though occasionally my lingual understanding, too—meaning how chemically my brain works to understand phrases, words, and structure of what other people are saying.
Multidetermining factors. That’s a psyche term from my street-smart psychology index. Multidetermining factors are all around us. From the front to the back to the side to the left to the high to the low to the everywhere. What’s great about small encounters like the telephone conversation, is it can be a metaphor for greater circumstances that are produced by multidetermining factors, as well as the fact that as a metaphor it serves as a real life examination and exercise for dealing with real life situations on the small scale.
Living in New York City has always been hard for me because of the multitude of people. The hordes look bigger than they are because NYC is such a small space to fit this great abundance, constantly growing, and with that rapidity, making up for those who leave. It’s not the people I feel overwhelmed by, but the emerging personalities that come from them. And, the close quarters seem to only magnify them, leaving any given moment at any given time in the NYC area subject to a potentially exemplary “New York moment.” The frequency of these moments are so great, a week can hardly go by without a handful of unusual instances, sometimes even a series. The frequency also, over time, influences personality and perception so that these things become “normal.” The point is, everything is multidetermined. Not only am I glad answering phones at Gotham has subdued my anxiety about phone calls personally, particularly it’s helped with my anxiety due to people at large. Every phone call is an opportunity to open up to the world, regardless of how brief and disconnected and surface and even minuscule. Every call is a chance to practice, being social and being open. It’s those hard moments, whether experienced live or on the Internet, in person or on the phone, via text or instant messenger, that make connecting so empty. That emptiness leads to an array of untamed emotions. It’s because I don’t know whom I’m talking to, and they don’t know me. Each phone call is a challenge. Maybe instead of it being a challenge I have to overcome, taking my wins and forgetting my losses, it can be a challenge to grow, having joy in my successes and learning lessons from those more bitter moments. A challenge above all factors, multidetermined and not, to be more compassionate, to others and to myself.