When the device first came on the scene in homes in the first part of the 20th century, the ringing phone was cause for either celebration or dismay. "You didn't call to chat," says Baron. "But after World War II, as phones became a little more inexpensive … it rang and you said, 'Oh good!' And then we started getting tired of having to answer the phone all the time, in large part because of advertising."
Then came the answering machine, and screening calls, and having to listen to messages and the burden of then returning them. Now, new forms of communication give you control over your talk time.
"With my own children and friends, I know to text them and say, 'Would tonight be a good night to talk?' " says Fine. "I am setting up the phone call so I am not interrupting. When I just call and say, 'Is this a good time,' someone might say yes, but you can tell you didn't catch them at a good time. And that diffuses the point of my phone call. There will be none of the connection that I hoped for because they weren't prepared for my phone call."
Other forms of messaging can also let you know when a friend really needs a phone call.
"Sometimes you can tell with a Facebook post that something is going on and they could use a call," says Noyes. "That's when I pick up the phone."
When to … call, text, email or Facebook
With so many ways to communicate, it can be hard to decipher which one is appropriate for the information you need to share. Here are some pointers from communications expert Debra Fine.
- Personal or complicated discussions: Email or text first to set up a convenient time for a phone call.
- Sharing pictures of your grandchild's graduation: Post them on Facebook.
- Set your next book club meeting date: Email, cc'ing all the participants.
- Checking on an aging parent: Phone call, which allows you to better pick up on subtleties that could indicate problems.
- Talk to a faraway grandchild: Video conference via Skype.
- Share good news, such as a promotion at work or new grandchild: Facebook status update.
Cynthia Ramnarace writes about health and families from Rockaway Beach, N.Y.