Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that millennials are less inclined to talk on the phone than young people of previous generations. Gone are the days when romantic gossip was shared between friends as they curled phone cords between their fingers—à la Marcia Brady in The Brady Bunch—racking up their parents’ phone bills, or, later, precluding the rest of their household from using dial-up internet. With Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger offering instant forms of communication, even text messages and e-mails are becoming obsolete, but the phenomenon begs the question—is this really for the best?
There are many pluses to alternative forms of communication: you can read and respond to others on your own time, think planfully about your words, and tailor your tone. You save time, perhaps, conversing with more people in one day—coworkers, family, friends—than you would be able to if every conversation were live. But are these conversations substantive? Should we really be dashing off acronyms to one another in place of full-length, reciprocal conversations? Are we hiding from one another, sacrificing the quality of our connections despite (or even because of) their quantity?
These questions are not new. A quick Google search containing “talking on the phone” and “millennials” will conjure such headlines as: “Why Millennials Don’t Like to Make Phone Calls”; “A Bunch of Millennials Explained in a Survey Why They Despise Phone Calls”; and “Why are Millennials So Scared of Talking on the Phone?” And I am not writing this because I am immune to the trend; if you call me unannounced, you will most likely reach my voicemail. However, thanks to one faraway-friend, I’ve been inspired to consider all that we are missing when we press that pesky “Decline” button.
With “adulting” comes a shift in friendships. In college, but especially after it, once-tight friend groups scatter across the country (and world), become subsumed with new work schedules, and start to couple up and settle in with significant others. For the first time, friendship requires effort and intention—which can be challenging for those on the introversion spectrum, whose past social crews arose out of proximity at educational institutions. These changes are not necessarily bad: new independence allows us to cull the relationships in our lives for quality over quantity (sensing a theme?); meet new acquaintances of varying age levels through work and leisure activities; even learn to love spending time by ourselves. But it’s important not to lose touch with our “oldies but goodies”—the ride-or-dies who carried us through college or, in my case, those brace-face, Bermuda-short middle school years.
Enter: the phone call. Nearly every Friday, one of my best gal pals and I have a standing end-of-week phone conversation. What once may have been shared stories over nachos and cocktails is now virtualized, but no less connected across distance. She tells me about “the lost art” of talking on the phone, then laughs at how young my voicemail message sounds. We talk about work gossip, classes, boys—our hopes and fears for the future. As we speak, usually during our mutual commutes home, I understand what Emma M. Seppälä meant when she wrote her Psychology Today article, “You’re More Emotionally Intelligent on the Phone, Really,” in which she highlights “listening for empathy” and “the power of voice.” At the end of the day, it seems intuitive—even painfully obvious—that, in good times, hearing our friend’s laughter offers greater satisfaction than an “LOL” on our screens and, in bad, a telephone check-in shows our concern far better than a texted “Thinking about you.”
To break this trend of disconnection and distance, I end this article with a challenge: open the contacts list on your phone and choose two people to call out of the blue. If they’re a millennial, they may not answer, but your effort will show them that you care and just might, in time, re-prioritize—to use my friend’s words—the lost art of conversation.
Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.
More on Mental Health on Campus: