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Opinion: Phone calls strengthen personal connections, bridge physical distances

(Matthew Park/Daily Bruin)

By Angelina Alkhouri

May 24, 2024 12:06 a.m.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

If my alarm fails to wake me up, the barrage of sounds from my phone jolts me awake each morning. Various notifications and alerts come in from different apps: WhatsApp, iMessage and FaceTime, to name a few. I address each app, keeping in touch with my friends and relatives across multiple platforms.

The digital world creates a difficult landscape for many people, especially students and young adults, because of the culture around our devices. As the last generation born without immediate access to technology and the Internet, it is difficult to imagine how communities stayed in touch and kept track of one another without the incessant stream of notifications we encounter today.

In a modern society dominated by technology, the significance of listening to the voices of my friends and family through phone and video calls remains undiminished. The comfort and intimacy of hearing the voices of loved ones is a refreshing experience, standing in stark contrast to the detached nature of daily digital interactions.

According to a 2020 survey, 85% of Americans believe calling strengthens personal connections, while 83% said calling enhances trust and the ability to emotionally connect.

This widespread appreciation for calls is rooted in various practical and psychological factors.

While texting can be convenient, it is also excessive when sharing your complex thoughts for deeper conversations. The editing, spelling and grammar of written messages can provide order to communication but can also decrease its authenticity.

Phone calls are more personal because voices can convey tone and emotion that are not inherent with a written message.

After moving to UCLA and away from my hometown friends, FaceTime became the main strategy for keeping in touch, with calls sometimes lasting several hours and simulating an in-person hangout. In a world that prioritizes speed and efficiency, the ability to slow down and connect through live, spontaneous calls is restorative. These conversations unfold naturally, carrying the excitement of laughter and the sincerity of heartfelt words.

By actively listening during these exchanges, we foster empathy and demonstrate a powerful way to care and support those around us. Dedicating the time to engage in conversation is essential for maintaining relationships.

As a first-year student, transitioning from the close-knit environment of high school to the independence of adulthood requires more intentional effort to maintain relationships. Fortunately, the beauty of calling lies in its ability to bridge physical distance.

Audio messages stand as another communication option that strikes the perfect balance between the convenience of texting and the intimacy of voice.

My Middle Eastern family – similar to other immigrant families – uses WhatsApp voice messages to stay connected with our relatives abroad. With contrasting time zones and schedules, voice memos deliver the authenticity of voices while transcending time constraints.

Although I cannot read Arabic, we can converse with voice memos because I know how to speak it. This allows me to practice my second language over the phone, further connecting me to my culture and family.

The practicality and psychological benefits of calling were explicit during the COVID-19 pandemic given the prevalence of distant Zoom calls and lack of face-to-face contact.

The world became digitized on an entirely new level. Despite widespread school closures, teachers could conduct virtual lessons, businesses could maintain operations online and other institutions adapted to ensure continuity in a time of uncertainty. Many meetings today are still conducted virtually given the great convenience of this new normal.

However, the overreliance on screens highlights some drawbacks. The constant exposure to screens and lack of direct contact took a toll on the mental health of many individuals because of the isolating environment.

Whether Zoom sessions were held for club meetings or class, they became more of a chore, and it was difficult to listen to the droning of my computer without genuine collaboration with others.

By contrast, in a 2023 study, the American Psychiatric Association found that phone calls significantly improved depressive symptoms during the pandemic.

The loneliness and challenges sparked by the pandemic were met with a source of comfort and support through phone calls. Chatting in live time, without having to unmute or wait for delays on text, provided individuals with a lifeline and offered both a sense of connection and belonging.

Bonds are strengthened with connection and can be significant when faced with physical distance. Whether it may be a brief check-in or a longer exchange, calling provides an outlet for the stress and homesickness experienced by students who often get so consumed in our own lives that it is relieving to step back and reflect. Having the opportunity to take my mind off school work and spend time talking to others is healing.

Whether it is navigating the transition to college, enduring the isolation from the pandemic or maintaining ties with relatives abroad, the sound of a loved one’s voice is irreplaceable.

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Angelina Alkhouri
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