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Are Gen Z picking up the phone less?

In an age where typed out texts and DMs dominate our means of communication, is answering a phone call a real fear for young people?

The haunting bells of an incoming call ignite the room. You reach for your device only to find an unknown number. In a blazing frenzy, you come to a stand and begin to contemplate. Who is it? What do they want? Why me?

You launch the phone to ring out its days in the crease of the sofa. Once silence restores the room, you beckon the phone once more, only, this time, to send the curiously ambiguous follow-up message: Hello?

Gen Zs and younger millennials are stuck in a bind. We live in a world with so many alternative modes of exchanging pleasantries; engaging our voice boxes and ears and chatting through the power of electronic signals almost feels archaic.

In all its technological glory, the smartphone has given us the power to do almost anything we desire from a glass keypad. We search quicker; we communicate more efficiently; we scroll, well, forever, if you so desire. Our smartphones are quite possibly the most significant and most impactful advancement of our generation, and they only seem to be ascending.

As is the case for most advancements, something eventually must give. If communicating is so effortlessly exercised, why cling to old ways? Which, to this generation, imbues a discomfort and unease like no other.

I’d say I fit the bill for this cohort. I’m on the fringes of the millennial demographic but also share a lot of behavioural qualities with Gen Zs. I remember hefty landlines joined to the wall by an unfurling cable. I remember friends calling me on that landline to arrange plans. I still, to this day, remember the number of that landline, as it was etched into memory like names and manners.

From around twelve to sixteen, my instant messaging existed only on the family desktop computer. A leaden HP resembled the size and shape of a microwave.

I have two siblings, so the three of us shared screen time after school and occasionally on weekends – when the sun didn’t make an appearance and our dad deemed it socially acceptable to remain indoors.

Chatrooms and forums thrived when I was a child, from MSN to Bebo. Myspace was on its way out, and Facebook was in its infancy. Statuses were made as we flaunted our availability.

After some time, Facebook Walls became an ecosystem for updates and curiosity. iPhones and Blackberrys belonged to important adults with essential duties, but desktop antics and landlines were a child’s domain.

Blackberry’s had BBM, which was revolutionary. It was a way to contact fellow BBM users without rinsing the character count expenditure. You were connected via the Blackberry ether. An unequivocally groundbreaking service that other smartphones would go on to adopt.

If you speak to folks who were adulting during that time, they’ll tell you they didn’t use mobiles for texting. It was a way to email and call while on the go. This is the generation of people who formerly used pay phones and pagers – so, as you can imagine, it was a milestone of unprecedented magnitude.

If you remember the rise of the Blackberry and haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend you watch the 2023 film Blackberry, starring Glen Howerton as the eccentrically dogmatic CEO. It’s as insightful as it is nostalgic, and, if you’re an Always Sunny in Philadelphia fan, you’ll love Howeton’s untethered performance.

By the time I was sixteen, I had received my first mobile phone. A hand-me-down bestowed by Dad.

Naturally, my communication platform metamorphosised into a portable, nomad-living, easily reachable young adult. However, picking up and making phone calls was already part of my communication’s DNA.

Texting, although frighteningly expensive, merely accompanied my protocol to answer the phone. Messages were pithy and to the point: where r u?; wot u doin l8r? They acted as supporting collateral to the original phone call.

My friends and I began our journey over the landline phone, exploring plans, agreeing on times, and deciding locations; texting would pick up the slack when we were on the move or away from the landline.

Fast forward a mere three years, and I distinctly remember being at university and floating the idea of a landline to my housemates. They received the suggestion in the same manner one would receive a suggestion of indulging in a picnic on the M25. Complete absurdity.

Landlines were gone, and their place was where smartphones ascended to the throne.

Around this time, I, like many others, chose the monthly contract option over the pay-as-you-go option. The latter would remain prevalent in the over-70s for some time still.

Instant messaging transcended overnight. WhatsApp and iMessage brought a new ease to communications, and with younger generations no longer sporting landlines in their new homes, they slowly started to dwindle. My parents still have a landline, and I couldn’t tell you where it lives in their house, nor what the number is.

I often miss the comfort of a landline. The singular purpose of a product, with uncompromising clarity and function. To sit and talk and listen from the comfort of an upside-down position on the sofa.

Like many past-time trends, maybe we’ll see this re-appear. I, for one, am hoping so.