About a year and 11 months ago, I landed in Edinburgh sleep-deprived after a flight filled with crying babies and a trying time in Heathrow. Meeting new friends on the flight from London to Edinburgh and seeing Highland Coo and sheep from the sky entering Scotland, it didn’t really register that I had made a huge life change until I traveled up to the top of the Royal Mile only to walk down a steep staircase in the side of a close to walk halfway up The Mound, and up five flights of spiral stairs to open the door to what looked slightly smaller than Dudley’s second bedroom. In that moment, I felt so lost and homesick. I had never moved to a new place without having family or friends to help me turn it into a home. Luckily, I was still able to call home and get all of my fears out of my system by leaving a horrendously pathetic message for my family that I had made a huge mistake and was taking the next flight home to Connecticut. I didn’t take that flight. I’m pretty sure my mom saved that voicemail for future embarrassment.
No matter where I have traveled, I’ve always known that I could always call home, that I never had to truly leave my family and friends. I often wonder if I could have survived moving to another country if I had done it the way my mom had done it: Bombay to L.A. with only collect calls every once in a while to talk to home. My trip to Scotland was completely different. Between Skype, calling through Facebook Messenger, relatives one country away, and subscription numbers, I may as well have only moved one town away instead of across an ocean. We live in a time where one can reach a friendly voice—or face—with the push of a few buttons. Given the ease of making calls now as to a generation ago, or even ten years ago, I am perplexed as to why we often prefer to use words on a screen instead of just making a phone call.
I remember the feeling of being able to talk to friends on my own phone in high school. There was no more worrying about tying up a landline, no bother about how long calls were because after 9 p.m., most networks had free, unlimited minutes to use. In some small way, I think, that freedom of personal communication, even before we could drive or make any real decisions about our lives imbued my generation with a sense of independence. The internet was for exploring the wider world; phone calls were for rehashing the day with friends and planning for the future. We knew how much we could shape the perception of ourselves for strangers and acquaintances online through AIM chats and Myspace; but hearing someone’s voice, taking the time to talk to them was far more personal.
Now, I largely communicate with people through email and different forms of text messages if I don’t have the chance to speak with someone face to face. It never feels quite as genuine. Where writing letters would give time to reflect and invest effort in communicating with someone, texting instead seems to quickly turn into shorthand where we communicate more often with less genuine responses than ever before. Something is always missing; something feels just rehearsed enough. How often do we receive an answer we weren’t expecting via a message? After all, unlike a face-to-face conversation, we have no way to read voice cues or body language. The art of conversation quickly becomes flat and uninspired, less open, and more likely to mask deceit. Able to communicate with more people more quickly, we have also become more isolated, less able to share in a human experience.
A couple of weeks ago I started calling old friends again, and making a point to Skype the people it is less possible to call. Whether a quick chat in the car or a longer talk with a glass of wine in the evening I found a change in myself. I was happier than I had been in a while. For the most part, these were current friendships, not a bridge being rebuilt, but I felt far more connected to my friends than I felt before. I think I will always be that person that prefers a conversation on the phone to most any other form of long distance communication. After all, there is a certain comfort in a familiar voice, and no one ever seems quite so far if they are only a phone call away.