“One moment, please, I’ll try his extension.”
I waited hoping to hear a voice answer. There was a pause.
“Sorry, he’s not at his desk. Would you like to leave a message?”
“Yes, please,” I said and began to mentally compose what I would say.
I waited for the tone that would precede the words apologizing for absence and the invitation to leave one’s name and number and a short message. All was silent. I waited a few more seconds, hoping that I had not been inadvertently cut off. There was silence.
Eventually, the voice that had answered the phone broke the silence. “He doesn’t have voicemail. Would you like to leave a message with me?”
“Ah,” I said, feeling foolish. “Yes, I see,” and I stumbled over the words of my carefully composed message, before asking if the person themselves might be able to answer the question to which I sought an answer. Within five seconds, the matter was resolved.
Of course, it would have been easier to have sent an email, or a text, or even to have used one of the social media platforms in order to establish contact, I had telephoned because of a preference to talk to the person and had then slipped back into the assumption of our times that, in the absence of the person, one talks to a device.
Why don’t we talk to people anymore? People will spend long periods, sometimes even hours, texting or messaging friends; social media will be full of conversations, not all of them friendly; forums will be filled with posts, many of them hostile; emails will bounce back and forward; but people do not talk.
Our daughter is a master of the new communications technologies and introduced me to “WhatsApp.” Going to Rwanda last December, I discovered that it didn’t just send messages, it allowed one to talk to other users over the Internet – for free. Sitting in a house in Muhanga one Sunday afternoon, I had tried to call my wife, who was unavailable, so called my sister in England instead, “where are you?” she asked.
“Sitting look out at a banana tree,” I replied, “the bananas are not yet ripe.”
“You are not in Ireland, then,” she laughed.
We sat and chatted, she in a cold and wintry England, and I in the warmth of an African day. The clarity of the sound was astonishing to someone who had grown up on the crackle and hiss of landline calls.
Talk is free, or virtually free, once flat rate charges are paid, one can talk to many people for nothing, or next to nothing, and yet the tapping of keyboards or screens is preferred to actual conversation with people.
Perhaps it is a sign of passing years, but there is nothing like talking to someone.