We text. We email. We’ve been known to exchange inane song lyrics on Facebook. We even manage to meet for coffee once a week, in a nod to the quaint traditions of real-life, non-cyber friendship.
Yet we are reluctant to risk “bothering” or “interrupting” one another on the phone without prior notice. An attitude that naturally extends to unannounced visits at our respective houses.
Who even thinks about ringing a doorbell without advance warning these days? Unless you’re a distressed pet owner looking for a lost kitten or a Jehovah’s Witness seeking to spread the word, it’s the ultimate faux pas.
In most neighbourhoods the obligatory warning phone call “I was driving past and thought I’d see if you were home…” has become the minimum expected of would-be guests before gracing the doorstep.
We still value our friendships and community interaction. Thanks to the round-the-clock nature of social networking, we’re talking more than ever, but only through tightly controlled, slightly disembodied avenues.
We text on the train while on the way to work, check our emails between meetings and listen to our voicemails while in line at the post office. We honour our promises to keep in touch, but only when time permits.
Friend A seizes a free moment to send a message to Friend B, who responds during a gap in their schedule. It’s the preferred communication of a time-poor generation.
Direct contact isn’t so compatible with multi-tasking, which is why we often hesitate. What if it’s a bad time? What if they’re too busy to engage in something as frivolous as an actual conversation?
With landlines becoming a thing of the past in many households, the I-just-called-to-say-hi practice is an endangered ritual. While we’re adept in fielding work-related queries, messages can be left languishing in residential voicemail systems for days on end.
It’s a far cry from only a couple of decades ago, when spur-of-the-moment phone calls and unannounced visitors were taken in their stride.
Receivers were cheerily picked up without the aid of caller ID. Doors were answered and guests ushered inside without prior arrangement.
It’s a shift in behaviour that’s symptomatic of our increasingly busy lives. Home, once considered a sanctuary, has become a fortress.