Why I Think Spontaneous Phone Calls Are Rude

In response to this article in the Freakonomics blog about 1/3 of people preferring texting to talking, I posted the following comment.  I thought it useful for others to understand why I am in that texting group.

Talking on the telephone has two inherent problems.  The first is that there is a certain etiquette that requires extra unnecessary information such as a greeting, "How are you doing" and a closing, "Talk to you later, goodbye" which increases the cost of the communication.  But much worse, the medium is synchronous.  In order to place a call, you have to dial the number, and wait for the other person to connect (or else possibly wait for an extensive voicemail greeting).  The recipient of the call is completely interrupted from whatever task he/she was doing, which may be annoying and will cause mental context switch which comes with some cost.

Texting is light-weight asynchronous operation. The interruption is momentary (a brief sound or a buzz) and the recipient can choose to immediately respond or finish up a thought or conversation with somebody else before responding.  The recipient can glance down at the phone in the middle of a meeting and understand the context of the message and is given the opportunity to choose if this new interruption is worth switching to or not.

Some younger people (including me, at 31) feel like placing an unplanned phone call to somebody is extremely rude because it implies that whatever the caller wants to talk about is more important than whatever the recipient was already doing.  The caller interrupts the recipient saying, "stop everything and listen to me for a minute or 30".  Indeed, when somebody calls me without warning while I am focusing on something important (such as an emergency at work), I feel anxiety about the potential wasted time talking about something less immediately important.  Many friends prefer I start a conversation via text (email, sms, IM) before elevating that conversation to a voice call to increase the bandwidth of the communication once both parties have agreed that the need exists.


  1. I'm not so sure if I can follow you there. Is this strange view on the social aspects of human life typical for more science minded people? (I'm curious not prejudiced) I mean, I get your point and you make a good argument. This can be annoying at times. On the other hand though, how hard is it to be assertive? People try to reach you. It doesn't mean you OWE them your time. Or you HAVE to drop everything straight away.

    This is what in social studies is called "personal boundaries". If you set some and live by them, you shouldn't go and make everyone else responsible for your own quirks and discomforts. I know this is a very late response, but I felt the need to put it out there.

    People are behaving more and more in a way that this article seems to justify. But it's a bit anti-social and it paints other people off as some giant source of interuption, distraction and frustration. We're talking about our friends right? Or family even? A good friend can call any time (in my book). Do we have to give them a half an hour or more each time they call? No. Can we explain to them that we don't have time and might try to reach them later? Yes. Do we have the freedom to not listen to their voicemail if we judged our time spent what we were doing, more meaningful than the content of a telephone conversation and the interuption that comes with it? Yes. This entire blog segment is just putting individuality as the highest possible value. But alone no one can accomplish anything.

    Just set boundaries bro.

    If someone you know is having a hard time and they're in crisis. And for whatever reason, they turn to you. Your voice is what they need to pull them through, your comforting words or supportive style is what they need. Do they wait for you to reply to a text saying "It's okay to interupt me"? Jeezs Louise, that sounds like a terryifing idea. We're not fully rational and mechanically thinking machines y'know. It would be lovely to always have shared consensus before starting anything (even conversations) but where's the fun in that?

    Show some love bro. Call up a friend at random, demand some of their time. Also maybe be rude for once to some call center operator bothering you. It relieves a lot of stress. Don't be an ass. Just be short and strict. Tell 'em to bother someone else or that you're not interested and you're hanging up now. I don't know, I'm just avoiding work here replying to a 9 year old blog post.

  2. Found something to do, but it's done so: