Confessions of a Phonaphobiac by Margaret Plumb


The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Passing it down, from generation to generation.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My son blogged about his phonephobia disorder, but he failed to mention that he inherited this wonderful gift from his mom and dad. Fear of the phone, Phonaphobia, is the antithesis of Phonoholicism, which, by the way, is also a real disorder. There are no support groups out there for Phonephobiasm. No one wants to make the necessary calls to set it up. Or at least that used to be the case. Now, of course, we can avoid the phone altogether and e-mail and text and stuff. And speaking of texting, it does seem strange, in this high-tech age, that we’ve reverted to an out-dated system of communication — the telegraph. Over 100 years ago, we had a primitive system of condensed words and abbreviations. Now we’re reversing the evolutionary process of invention, going pre-Bell, a step backward in the inventions of our time, before the invention of the telephone was designed to “reach out and touch someone.”

My own Phonophobia is almost a genetic disorder. It was passed on to me by my mother. Here’s the proof that most things are caught, not taught. She never told me that the phone was bad, no, but whenever it rang, her body language spoke volumes. Her whole system tensed like a cougar in pre-strike position. At the sound of the jarring ring tone (alternate ring tones were, of course, unavailable), her shoulders immediately compressed and drew inward, her normally pleasant expression turned to a sour grimace; face clenched and taut, and under her breath we’d hear her hiss: “that damn phone!” If you knew my scrupulous mother, that phrase alone escaping her lips would be enough evidence needed to convince you that yes, the phone is, indeed, evil. Some of her anxiety had to do with fear of being guilt-tripped into volunteering for one thing or another for the church or small-town community. Perhaps this is why they never upgraded, I swear, they were the last home in the U.S. with the rotary dial phone.

Spawn of the devil

As a teen, I rebelled against this unspoken phone prejudice and spent many a happy hour with my best friend on the ‘tellyphone’, its 20-foot cord stretched taut so I could hide in the next room and talk about the secret things that teenagers talk about.

My phone avoidance was cemented during my husband’s construction business, several lifetimes ago, during the economic downturn of 1981, which all but collapsed the housing industry. Having several spec houses out, we were caught in the demise. Our sensitized consciences and image consultants (ourselves) wouldn’t let us declare bankruptcy, so we limped along for years trying to get back on our feet. The IRS began hounding us, there was no money to pay them or even set up a payment plan, and so the phone avoidance began. Of course, that was before

“You failed to report monies received from the tooth fairy!!”

answering machines or caller ID, so every time the phone rang, Imagethe adrenaline of fear would rip through our bodies. Unrelenting, the IRS called at all sorts of odd hours, and resorted to disturbing us rudely at 6 a.m. The phone became my enemy. (We’ve since made reparations with the IRS, and while I can’t say it’s a friend, it’s not our enemy anymore. More like a frenemy.)

Usually in our marriage, one person makes up for the weakness of the other, but not in this case. my husband and I are BOTH Phonaphobiacs. Like Pavlov’s dog, we’ve been conditioned that the sound of the ring tone signifies everything bad. Caller ID helps, but neither of us will follow through to the call-back. No one is ever able to get a hold of us via telephone, and no doubt that must have others tearing their hair out with frustration. Or just giving up on us altogether. Yes, sadly, we’ve probably lost friendships over it.

Why on earth would we (with whom friendship is highly valued) lose friends over merely an annoyance? I suggest that it is more than that, an actual phobia like fear of heights, claustrophobia, etc. I discovered that Phonephobia, a.k.a. phone-phobia, a.k.a. telephobia, is a psychological condition in which one experiences extreme fear or avoidance of using the telephone. Listed as some of the reasons for this:

Fear of: confrontation, of ridicule, of miss-communication, of forgetting what you wanted to convey, fear of irreversibly prejudging someone based on their voice alone (huh?), and fear of hearing the voice of someone you have not yet met but plan to meet in the future for fear of disliking the quality of their voice and inappropriately prejudging the person out of context (…um…okay…)

Now some of these seem a little bogus, but there were a few more believable ones listed:

Fear of lull in conversation, not knowing what to say, fear of stuttering, of appearing boring. On the internet, you can take your time to respond in a creative way. On the phone, no time to think and sometimes you run out of things to say at all, and the silence is terrifying. Fear of reaching the answering machine and not being prepared. (Or, in my case, fear of NOT getting the answering machine, and actually forced to talk to a live person.)

I added a few of my own:

getting stuck on the phone when you have things to do, getting interrupted during something important or when you’re running out the door, difficulty hearing the other party, hating the sound of your own voice, being tongue-tied, not quick enough for a comeback, being too nice to say “no” to something, not wanting to impose on others’ schedules with an ill-timed phone call . . . and the biggest one: getting stuck on the phone with a Phonoholic; the disorder that spawned the reactionary disorder of Phonophobia.


easy for you to say

I can think of so many reasons not to use or like the phone. I much prefer e-mail. But I have a friend who despises e-mailing altogether and has her own list of reasons for preferring the phone. Oh well, each to her own phobia. Personally, though, I find e-mail to be efficient, non-obtrusive, a less pressured and more well-thought-out means of communicating. It’s also a documented public record to look back on for clarification or “proof.” I found that e-mailing with people who are prone to be manipulative was a fantastic way to stick to the truth, no way for them to change it around later with: “I didn’t say that, etc.” E-mail or face-booking is also an excellent way to communicate with groups and plan events. Gone are the days when you’d spend all day on the phone just trying to organize a meeting; stuck with compulsory polite chitchat with every person you telephoned.

But as much as I  try to do all my communication via e-mail, there are still some times when the phone is necessary. And so I must take baby steps towards using it again . . . baby steps crossing the big divide, my living room, over to the landline or cell . . . baby steps dialing, you can you this, you can do this.

Years ago, I started a Procrastinators Anonymous group. I haven’t gotten around to setting up the first meeting, but I’m getting there. Phone-Phobia Anonymous would also make a great support group, I could start that up as well. But not if I have to use the telephone to notify people.

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