Bye-Bye to the Phone Call

As a means of communication, the phone call is dying, soon to be replaced by a mix of text-based exchanges over e-mail, IM, and social networks. Pro or con?

Pro: No More Ring

It’s hard to imagine the phone call becoming marginalized in our lifetime, but it has. Even our ideas from the past of what a phone would look like today are amusingly old-fashioned. Clunky video-phone kiosks, anybody?

Now we stream our life to the Web. And we quickly learn via text, images, and YouTube what a dozen friends and colleagues experienced today by connecting to the Internet, increasingly through a mobile device.

We communicate with more people in business and personally, and with greater regularity, than ever before. The iconic image of teenagers locked in their rooms while talking on the phone has been replaced with teens on the move while texting and updating their status on social networks.

With more than 81 percent of Internet users between 12 and 34 availing themselves of social networking sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, it’s unlikely they’ll revert to communicating the way their parents did.

It’s not just for kids. The acceptance of new media communications by Internet users spans all ages, with more than half those under 65 using social networks.

No longer do we wait to tell friends about the to-die-for pear and Gorgonzola soufflé we ate at the family-run trattoria. We share it in real time simultaneously with hundreds of people in our social circles, and they comment back.

While hearing the voice of a loved one can never be replaced, the richness of how we now choose to communicate makes the phone call simply one dimension of a richer and preferred experience that has surpassed it.

Con: Voice Has Value

This debate is a great idea.

How did you read that statement I just made? As an honest compliment? A sarcastic jab? The problem is, you can’t truly know. Without tone of voice to guide you, you’re left to guess at my intent. The only way to know for sure? Call me.

Text-based communication has a key role in business, but one that is most effective for quick updates or batch processing of messages. When we try to utilize it for sensitive matters or strategic decision-making, it snarls and tangles. In a study we just conducted on the communication habits of business professionals, 72 percent said they’ve had to follow up an e-mail with a phone call to clarify an issue, and 50 percent said an e-mail message had been misunderstood and caused tension in a relationship.

Voice is how we’re meant to communicate. Preferably in person, where body language can assist in the communication as well. But when we’re in different places—and that’s increasingly the case these days—voice communication will remain essential to critical business matters. As we collaborate, as we negotiate, as we discuss complex or technical matters, voice or voice plus visuals is preferred 10x or more to written communication.

So if you want a quick response, or a topic is truly important, pick up the phone, whichever phone that may be—desk, mobile, or softphone. Your message will be heard loud and clear. And if you want to know my true intent in that opening statement, click here.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloomberg Businessweek, Businessweek.com, or Bloomberg LP.

Reader Comments

Tsuda Shoken

My position is Con. I think that the phone will be used 10-30 years later because many people who are surrounded by oral communication all day don't like to write words. I think that the number of those people is decreasing, but in 10 years from now, they will still exist in every office and store.

All Together

If you're a teenager updating what you just ate, by all means you don't need to communicate the way their parents did. If you're in business, a serious relationship or don't want any misunderstanding of the message you're attempting to convey, you had better pick up the phone for your communication. I don't know of any big business deal that was done strictly by email. Besides, hearing someone's voice is so much more powerful than a text or email. Don't believe me, stop talking to people and use only text and emails for a week or two. You'll soon be back to the phone. \

Scotty

One phone call saves 10 emails.

Abasse Asgaraly

Nothing replaces human interactions through voice communications. This has been the case for the past thousands of years and will still continue.

mr

What ever happened to voice recognition to text? So much simpler than typing.
And voice phone is far from dead. It will include video on both ends.

V P Kochikar

The phone call won't die; it'll simply be absorbed into a broader array of communication mechanisms such as email, instant messaging, and the like. But within this array it will continue to perform a vital and irreplaceable role--that of carrying the human touch over the miles.

John D Gwazdosky

Just don't tell a Republican about this idea as they will sure and hell block such inventions unless lobbyist's pay them for the support--that is the reality of the times.

john d.

dc

Well, when the phone became popular few decades ago, did people stop talking to each other in person?

Jeff Raw

Can't I be both pro and con? I love social media and new forms of communication, but there is no substitute for voice when there is something that has an emotional element. Voice will go the way of the newspaper...declining but still very important.

Cormac

Phone calls come at all the wrong times, mostly when you're concentrating on something else. In global operations, time zone differences often make phone calls difficult. But having said all of that, seeing/hearing the other parties makes a big difference when discussing something difficult, and when fast collective decisions are critical.

But there are better facilities these days for "face time." Video conferencing (used by the military and the cabinet) is very available and cheap. And pre-arranged discussions mean focus, and sometimes preparation. Very difficult if a call comes in out of the blue.

Traditional telephone has diminishing value, and that's why it will phase out.

TerryReport com

The phone call is dying, even though it has not lost its value. We make many judgments, as noted, by the sound of someone's voice. The written word, in contrast, presents a very difficult task for the writer in terms of tone and meaning. Written down, things take on a harsher value and people tend to blurt things out that they would not dare to in person. Everyone knows, or should know, that you don't send a written message to someone when you are angry because you might burn all available bridges.

I strongly suspect that the texting rampant among teenagers is being driven by fadishness. When I was in the 8th grade, yo yos suddenly came into temporary fashion. Everyone had to have one all of the sudden. Then, just as suddenly, they were gone.

Texting offers teens something they can control, something that Mom, Dad or teachers can not really limit. Isn't that what young adults are searching for: something of their very own, something that allows them to take another step toward full adulthood? It is an obsession which, even with this understanding of part of its purpose, I cannot fully comprehend. Why were the teenage girls behind me in the line at a bagel shop texting at 8 AM? Who wants to know what they are doing and what they have planned next? Who really cares? I certainly didn't care to know all the time what my friends were doing at that age. Now, they can, so it appears they must.

Phone calls are still an important way of starting business relationships if you can't meet in person or by "telepresence." I think they will remain viable for a long time to come, while continuing to fade away.

Doug Terry

trh

Lawyers make a lot of money putting down printed words to establish an absolute meaning for a given intention. All sorts of things go into communication, words, tone of voice, mannerisms, inflection. And we are still often misinterpreted. When you go to court, nothing matters until the judge smacks his gavel. Even then there is the apeals court, all the way to the highest court. Then political decision, and over the years revisited political decisions. Voice will always be the most common way to communicate. The phone is never going away. Never.

Maciej Janiec

Voice is still the fastest and paradoxicaly still the most precise way of communication.

Text messages are often ambiguous, unless legal texts, which are often incomprehensible.

Effective communication requires interaction and understanding of other side's intentions.

At this moment, only voice can provide that at adequate level.

http://blog.inlevel.com

Cel

Hi, I have worked in IT for 20 years running for the most part my own business. For the past 5 I have seen workers become increasingly isolated and this is a direct effect of the use of technology. You may be able to text, email, etc., but this is a limited form of communication with little depth. A phone conversation or video conference is better and of course a face to face has a lot more depth.

Obviously IT has grown up around me as I have gotten older and I am closer to the days when people wrote letters and used the phone or traveled to visit people, but this is happening today with people who are 15--it is just a different generation of technology, so there is a relative comparison.

I think that IT will become less fashionable in that it will move to the background of life, like a kettle used to boil hot water, and that the likes of social networks will change and become something else that is just not talked about as it is today.
At the end of the day IT is s/w, and bits of plastic, metal etc., and I think that people like to touch and be around things that are naturally created and evolved as we are.

The media blows this up, and let's face it when phone companies make products. For example, they create something to make money and not to make people's lives better. Also when they say this will make your life better, this is their definition of better and not necessarily consumers', but people buy into it just like we buy that great new pair of baseball boots, etc.

Casey

It's important that we teach our kids the importance of having conversations in person or audio (by telephone). I think tone is what IM, text, etc. will never replace.

ANNE

I loathe these voice system methods of communication where I'm forced to try to get information from a robot who doesn't ever understand what I'm saying and I inevitably get frustrated and start arguing with "the voice," which is dumb, I know, but my frustration takes over.

Companies hide their phone numbers, trying to get a phone number to call, whether or not you actually get to talk to a person, is annoying as heck because for one thing, pre-sale, there's always a number available but afterward when you need help forget it.

Just yesterday I canceled an agreement that was supposed to be a free trial month before I decided. They charged my credit card anyway, and then when I tried to call they were nowhere to be found. I finally got through as a "new customer" and canceled immediately. I told them I had no confidence since they were deceptive and had no phone contact overall, and I will keep doing that because I'm fed up with customer service that is basically "do it yourself."

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