Getting Over Diane

David, don't put the phone on a pedestal.
David, don't put the phone on a pedestal. // Creative Commons

I don’t have lalophobia, and I wouldn’t label myself a “phone-fearing” individual. But I do suck at making phone calls.

Several people have relayed to me that the “No. 1 reported fear” in the United States is of public speaking. It isn’t mine. I wouldn’t rank public speaking above my fear of waterboarding, identity theft or running out of toilet paper in a public restroom. Yet there’s something about picking up a phone that gets me worked up in weird, and probably very unnatural, ways. My mouth dries up like the feeling of sucking in air at the bottom of a Coke-flavored Slurpee, and words get stuck in my throat like large tapioca balls in a regular straw.

Maybe I should start to “visualize myself successfully making or receiving calls” and “imagine a positive conversation and feeling good afterward.” This is a nugget of advice from an About.com column titled “When Phone Fear is Something More” by clinical psychologist Arlin Cuncic; it is filed under treatments for those suffering from “social anxiety disorder.”

Alas, my poor phone skills — and others’ irrational fear of public speaking — are probably a result of what is considered one of the greatest technological advances to take place in the past 20 years. The Internet. I’d go so far as to call us the “beta” generation, the lab rats and test tubes for this brave new world. New technological innovation is also, conveniently, the primary reason I suck at making phone calls. In my case, the anecdotal evidence is compelling. I can trace it all back to the days of my youth and the moment I discovered the Internet was a way to connect with people. Perhaps I’m having delusions of grandeur, but I was surprisingly adept at online communication — employing wit, the right amount of “haha”s, and SAT-level words like “puerile.” I can trace it all the way back to third grade. My playground was my mom’s AOL account. I would chat up my older sister’s friends using my index fingers to tap out simple, and compound, sentences with proper punctuation. One friend in particular, Diane, was eight years older and in high school. We hit it off on a cyber level, although we’d also see each other when she came over to hang out with my sister.

Over this past break, I went out to a hip(ster) bar in Oakland’s Jack London Square with my sister and her friends. Diane was there. At first she seemed curious about my first semester at Yale. What girls I’d met, what classes I’d taken and what the weather was like. And then, she brought it up. She leaned in extra close, like she was divulging a secret or a dirty fantasy, and began to reminisce about the long hours we spent communicating on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger for the uninitiated). I realized then how much time I’d wasted face-to-the-monitor, vying for her attention and affection.

The whole experience was disturbing: I saw my “Internet life” flash before my eyes. My online courtship of Diane 13 years ago was the first of the many not-too-personal relationships that I would develop mainly online. The pattern continued through the years I spent on Myspace, and later Facebook. I find myself wondering whether my outlook towards communication would be different if I’d spent those long hours chatting with Diane on my family’s landline. And if she had never signed onto AIM, would I have grown so attached to the Internet?

I don’t want to end up searching for advice from people like Arlin Cuncic anytime soon — “visualize it…” — so I’d better start while I’m ahead. My recent encounter with Diane serves as a nice bookend for a series of Internet profiles; my AIM, Myspace and Facebook are permanently deleted. Yet I hold onto my Twitter handle and LinkedIn account for reasons I can’t fully articulate. I recognize the pattern of building relationships primarily online, and am working to break it. Next time you text or email me for an update or to grab a meal on campus, you’ll probably receive a (stuttering, awkward) phone call from me. Hopefully when we’re old, we’ll be sipping schnapps and looking back fondly at our long, engaging phone conversations.

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