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Fear and loathing of the telephone

By Tom Collins
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 30, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Tom Collins

My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Grussing, used to bemoan the telephone as the causal factor in the decline and fall of proper English grammar and clear communication in this country. The more we talk, the less intimate we become and the sloppier our usage becomes, she said, until we don't (or won't) know what we mean to say anymore.

The notion, of course, was not new even 20 years ago. It has been the mantra of the Romantics and the technology averse since Alexander Graham Bell first ordered a pizza with extra anchovies 1 million years ago.

That said, I feel it is incumbent on me, as a columnist, to share with you my feelings on the telephone and the advance of telecommunications in the nation and the world.

I do not like the telephone. In fact, I fear and loathe the telephone like a squirrely derelict with a head full of rat poison that fears, well, everything. Nothing makes me quite as angry as the digitized bell sound of my phone, which means I spend much of my time at home angry because, in case you haven't noticed, the phone is always ringing off the hook.

Ironically, this has not been a long-time aversion. In fact, even up until a year ago, I had no real problem answering the phone, until all of a sudden I had a whole lot of academic and professional associations which caused me great pain.

For example, I worked out of my home on legislative campaign coverage for a local paper. I tried in vain for nearly a month to get a Democratic incumbent on the phone, only to have him call me back a week after my deadline and fill up my answering machine with untoward whining. (He lost, needless to say.) Indeed, the fear that picking up the phone would lead to a ration of irrational and inappropriate angst from any number of people whom I had stupidly allowed to have my number became enough for me to begin screening my calls and, subsequently, to erase my machine. After all, I've had the same number for half a decade. I reached critical mass. And I missed U.S. West's caller ID special.

All of this isn't to say I'm hard to get a hold of. I return e-mail from people with relative regularity. If you send me an e-mail right now, I'd write back, Melissa virus or not.

But what's the point? The point is that for me, the phone is itself too intimate, allows for too little control. One is too likely to end up talking to someone you feel ought be banned from breathing or someone who wants to sell you a weekend in Tahiti including bus fare.

In addition, I don't write letters, fearing the permanence and perceived seriousness that putting pen to paper in personal correspondence indicates. (I mean, once I read, several years later, a letter I wrote to a high school girlfriend in which I discussed how "Sister Act" made me reflect on the aging process. I knew I was no writer.)

I've tried turning off my phone, but my mother and father thought I had choked to death on Tylenol so I had to turn it back on.

Now, I know what you're thinking, besides questioning the judgment of a newspaper in dedicating space to my rambling, you're thinking that I'm the crazy one - crazy like a branch office manager who writes up her employees for chewing gum.

You may be right. But, it is only by opening up about our fears and troubles that we can hope to heal our mental wounds. And I share my feelings with you so that you might recognize some piece of my tale and in that we as individuals, as a community, might grow to understand one another and establish communication, via e-mail.