Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

Summary: Phone calls are in decline among the iGeneration. Some theories as to why traditional phone call is 'endangered' by social media and written communications.


Wired's Clive Thompson argued the case that "cultural transition" was killing off the traditional phone call, replaced with with text messages, instant messaging and social networks.

I have suspected this for a while frankly, with many of my peers, student colleagues and friends though being connected to multiple networks, applications and even devices at any one point, struggle to perform a simple task like picking up a call when their phone starts to ring.

I charged up my BlackBerry and tested this out. I called 20 people, all within the same timezone and country to minimise any extra roaming call charges and suchlike, and at the same time of day to maximise the chance of connecting the call.

It was around 3pm, when I knew people would either be at work or awake (students often sleep in to mid-afternoon; anyone with kids will know this). I also selected people semi-randomly, though made sure I knew the person well enough to be able to engage them in conversation.

  • 20 phone calls made to landline contacts (all over 30 years of age): 14 picked up, 5 rang out and went to voicemail (one of them was my boss - shame on you!), 1 call engaged.
  • 20 phone calls made to mobile contacts (all over 30 years of age): 18 picked up, 1 call rejected and sent straight to voicemail, 1 call disconnected with no voicemail.
  • 20 phone calls made to mobile contacts (under 30 years of age): 5 picked up, 12 rang out and went to voicemail, 2 calls disconnected with no voicemail, 1 call engaged.
  • 20 text messages sent out to the same mobile contacts (under the age of 30): 18 responses within an hour of receiving a delivery report, 1 didn't reply, 1 didn't get a delivery report back in the hour.

I doubt if I repeated the test again I would get such a good result, but for now, it shows one interesting result. Older people still use voice communications. Younger people don't pick up, but opt for a text solution instead.

What I found most revealing through this test is that those who are in their first or second year of university, are more likely not to pick up their phone when called than those who are in their final year or in post-graduate education. Those who are 'closer' to high school than they are graduating appear to be not as interested in phone calls as they are text messages and suchlike.

If I'm honest, Thompson hit the nail on the head. He's absolutely right: the phone call is dying off with the Generation X, and the Generation Y/iGeneration are using their phones, but not as phones. Surely a phone is indicative of a device which enables one to verbally communicate with another person?

Well, no - actually. Just as the BlackBerry was once a fruit, so was an Apple, and a worm was something you found in the ground, and Java was a place or a coffee and not a programming language.

A phone isn't a 'phone' anymore. It's a communication device, and though you can of course still make phone calls if you wish, it's negated by social media and the mobile keyboard.

I prefer a phone call. It took me a while to warm to the idea, but as a journalist you find you can always get more out of someone if you speak to them either in person or over the phone. Email frankly gives them time to think, though once it's written down it can be very hard to retract, unlike the typical unrecorded phone call. Besides that, a phone call is very social and will be remembered long after a typical Facebook chat conversation.

If I were to really pull at the seams, it almost feels like the iGeneration is scared of picking up the phone. I can't pin a specific reason on why, exactly, but Pat Phelan believes it boils down to timing and how busy the recipient is. In a work environment, I can understand this. But this is of a social nature, and though presence technology is useful, I suspect one could argue that an incoming call surprises the recipient when in a state of not expecting a call.

However, some could argue that text messages often with the bundle and tariff they are on are free up to a certain limit, and outweigh free minutes. Plus, data on a smartphone bundle - if you were lucky to catch the unlimited supply while it lasted - enabled Facebook, Twitter, BlackBerry Messenger and all kinds of data-intensive messaging applications to be used instead, all for free.

Voice can give away a lot about where you are, what you are doing, give context to emotion and frankly requires effort. An instant message or a Facebook wall post gives off very little, usually. But us young'uns have managed to develop our own text-language to include elements of emotion; the emoticon, the ability to add inflection, capitalisation and other techniques which add feeling to the conversation.

It's not great, and it is far from a replacement from the voice at the end of the phone - but it is a start. It never has, nor never will be enough though.

What do you think?

Topics: Social Enterprise, Mobility, Telcos

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  • Not nearly

    In business anyway. I doubt your boss will be yelling at you over Facebook wall posts for those TPS reports you forgot to attach the new cover sheets to. It's also highly unlikely that a place of business will contact you over AIM to set up an interview.

    I think voice calling will be around for some time yet. Just like AIM, Facebook and text messaging have yet to kill that off.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

      @NStalnecker Indeed. We have secure texting here on our intranet. The younger folks use it, I'm in the middle and use it because I need to keep up with them, and the older folks prefer the phone.<br><br>I prefer texting if it's something I need to quickly check on and it's a youngster. I'll use e-mail if it's something I need to get on an audit trail (whether the person is older or younger). And I use the phone with older folks (to make them feel more comfortable) and with the younger folks when I need more detail than I can get in a few IMs back and forth.<br><br>Of course, the younger ones will text me when I call (after not having listened to the voicemail naturally) or will stop by my office to chat. This all seemed more difficult at first making adjustments like this to my workflow, but ultimately it has just become part of the normal routine.
    • RE: Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

      @Cylon Centurion I agree voice calling obviously still has its place and will not be done away with.
      - <a style="text-decoration: none; color: #333333;" href="">Jan Smit</a>
  • RE: Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

    Cell-Phones and other technologies that permit printed data transmission in addition to voice transmission have become incredibly invasive to places they <b><u>do not belong</u>!</b> The workplace has become less productive in my corner of the world as <b>EVERYBODY</b> has to stop and text back to an incoming text in the middle of working. Or... they have to answer a phone call in the middle of working. These texts / phone calls, by-in-large, have nothing to do with work related business. - And no, I am not a Boss. I am someone that wants to do my job, get paid, and go home!

    Restaurants are another place these devices <b><u>don't belong</u>!</b> I'm going to the restaurant to enjoy the atmosphere and a good meal. I am not there to listen to someone screaming into their phone or being annoyed by the tap., tap, tap (beep, beep, beep) of texting.

    I fail to see what is so dad-blasted important that one needs to be on a Cell-Phone talking or texting as much as you see it done. I have lots of family and friends and none of us are as glued to our "communication device" as so many others are.

    As-far-as I am concerned, the "communication device" can die right along with phone calls!
    The Rifleman
    • the other day at Peter Lugars in NYC I was utterly amassed

      @The Rifleman

      I also really hate it when in a restaurant when you see 50% of the people with a phone in one hand and a fork in the other and both are vying for the persons mouth.
      Over and Out
      • Say it again

        @The Rifleman | @SoYouSaid <br><br>Too bad more today wouldn't concern themselves with invading the *privacy* and *peace* of others, instead of yapping away in mindless prattle in all the wrong places.<br><br>But then, what should one expect in fat, spoiled societies where everything is geared for LCD mentalities? *Crude* and *rude* have never been more in vogue. Just look at what Hollywood pushes at every turn. Need I say more?
    • 100% in agreement

      @The Rifleman We went out to eat recently and a young couple siting at the next table were both texting away. Annoying as hell!!!
    • RE: Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

      @The Rifleman Well, not only do we know you're not the boss, we also have a fair idea of just how old you might be
    • RE: Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

      @The Rifleman Hey, you have anything else off topic to say?
  • RE: Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

    I have a daughter who is a "tween" and she got her first cell phone last year at eleven. I limited her texts to 200 and every month she runs out early. One day she was complaining about not being able to text a friend. Besides the lecture about learning to conserve texts just like money so that you have some left until the end of the month, I suggested that she just call her friend. I reminded her that she had plenty of free minutes, and that we NEVER run out of those. Well, she quickly informed me that they just don't call people anymore. It's text or nothing! I think that sums up what this reporter is trying to say.

    I do have to admit though, as a 40+ year old, I often prefer texting to talking too, though it's always based on the specific needs at the time. But, having gotten sucked into more long winded conversations that I care to remember, I will choose text over a call if I just need to relay some quick information, and appreciate the same from others. But, still will use the phone to call if I just want to talk to that person, or have a question thats not always easy to explain over text. I am guessing too that this is based somewhat on gender as my ex-wife always seemed to use well over the free minutes we received for calling, while may daughter and I were always well under.
  • RE: Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

    Those "18 responses within an hour of receiving a delivery report" ... you forgot to mention they replied to you `stop bothering me bro!` lol
    • RE: Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

      @TxM2xTx Haha, good point. I sent a relatively arbitrary message which warranted a response. It was designed to be sent to all kinds of people across my friendship groups/contacts to provoke a response. I couldn't submit it here though - ZDNet is considered a "family friendly" site... ;)
    • Message has been deleted.

  • RE: Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

    For me, it's a matter of priority.

    yes, the cell phone is a communication tool, but a person can exercise their use of the device and prioritize how and when to use the device and receive incoming and outgoing messages whether by actual voice call, or by text method.

    Perhaps I do this because I'm on the cusp between a voice generation and a text generation, but each has it's place and purpose. In the workplace I absolutely prefer receiving email over calls. I can scan an email in just a few seconds and determine what a coworker needs and get right to work on that. A phone call can monopolize the time that I can get things done for the person.

    In the case of SMS, I use it in situations where a voice call is either not appropriate, or not warranted. I use public transit and can't stand when someone is having the overly obnoxious talk-as-loud-as-they-can cell phone conversation. I SMS instead if I need to say something, or wait. Alternatively, if something just needs a short reply? "What do you want for dinner?" it takes less time to write "Let's meet at Assiaggio's for Italian" than to play phone tag.

    But I do use voice, off work hours, and for things that an SMS is not appropriate for. I will spend upwards of an hour or two conversing with old friends many states away catching up on life.

    As for not answering incoming voice calls at all, I will say that if I do not recognize your phone number, or you are not in my address book when you call, I WILL let it go to voicemail first. I get three robo-calls a day on my cell phone because someone else apparently had my phone number before me and I constantly receive her calls instead. Since these are political, religious or collections calls they do not fall under the Federal Do Not Call registry restrictions. So they all go right to voicemail. If I suspect the call may be important, I'll listen to the voicemail then decide the appropriate task to take to respond if it needs a response.

    Priority - How do I choose to respond to a message and which way would be the fastest or most appropriate?
    Appropriateness - Does the social or environmental situation dictate how I should respond to a message?
    Warranted - is a specific form of reply warranted, or is it easier or more efficient to respond in a particular way?
  • Unspoken here is many wireless voice calls are unintelligible

    Frankly, I am sick and tired of how I can only hear half of what the caller is saying.
    • RE: Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

      Must have an iphone or AT&T sevice right lol
  • RE: Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

    A phone call is always worth having. I still have my lan line at home when my cell is out of power or the phone conversation warrants a call to a different carrier. The unlimited plan is not within my budget for multiple phones. Since I do have smart phones, the best way for unlimited calling is Skype or Fring, as well as Google Voice for unlimited TXT messages. (FYI calling through Google Voice uses minutes since you are connecting to GV and not the other number first. The only time it's free is when GV is listed under MYfav/etc number.)
    Like most, it depends on the situation or the interference where you are if you want to make a call or TXT someone instead.
  • from a business perspective...

    Interestingly, just yesterday I had a conversation with a friend over the topic of how IM has nearly supplanted the phone in my daily purchasing for our business. While we both agreed that telephone contact needed to be kept up with these vendors, there are clear business reasons to handle the majority of my communication via IM:

    1 --- it is much quicker to get a quote for a widget from 6+ different vendors via cut/paste than dialing 6 numbers; and

    2 --- there is a log of all communications that can easily be researched and used (invaluable) whereas taping a voice conversation is illegal and certainly not very searc-friendly; and

    3 --- especially in my field (tech) there are a lot of ESL contacts (over 90%) and we are far less likely to have a miscommunication over parts/pricing when each side has a moment to 'look' at what the other side is saying.
    • RE: Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

      I kind of find it to be exactly the opposite with me and my business.

      1.Its alot quicker to hit 1 key speed dial or voice dial then load widgets find a vendor or customer get them loaded up then a simple call which goes to point 2...

      2. For logs i have phone record tells me time date how long and number I talked to them on and if I want more a send a super fast email from my email book quick list now i have email I sent, confirmation it was opened when and by what reciever.

      3.I find in electronic files many more chances of typos and such so they tend to make more work as an extra 1 in the wrong place with no verbal double chek can ruin an order so a voice or verbal call with a physical contract saves time energy and costs.
  • RE: Phone calls: An endangered species, killed off by social media?

    Sincerely, how does one engage others in voice communication? My two sons who are ages 25 and 20 pratically forced me to learn to text. That's my only method of communicating with them most times. Both of them prefer it over talking to me on the phone or even face to face. Now, I find myself in the same position with my friends, some who are anywhere from 10 years younger to 5 years older than me; I'm 45 years old. Even in the dating game, I meet men who prefer to text me to ask me out for a first date rather than call me on the phone directly. I prefer to talk by voice communication; no matter how a person tries, the emotion, inflections, inferences, etc. cannot truly be emulated in a text message. In fact, many times, both e-mail and texting can denote tone that is not intended.