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(The Conversation)Some people might remember the days of coming back from school eager to call a friend, sometimes sitting for hours talking about anything and everything. However, today most young people rarely call each other. The very idea of calling someone or receiving a call seems to cause anxiety in many.
When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876 it's doubtful that he imagined how its usage would change over time. What started out as a wired medium for a voice conversation is now wireless and mobile, used to transmit written messages, photographs and access the internet.
To some extent, the changing use of the telephone is positive for young people, as phones allow them to communicate with people worldwide more easily and quickly than before.
Despite, how "connected" we are and how easy it might be to communicate, mental ill-health, including anxiety and depression, is on the increase among young adults. They were also one of the groups who felt most lonely as a result of the pandemic.
Would this outcome have been different had they used their phones for live calls? It might have. Particularly given that a live phone conversation can make us feel good and give us a sense of fulfillment, which continues after we've hung up.
Meaningful phone calls
Arguably it's the quality not quantity of phone calls which is important, and those which support meaningful relationships with significant others and friends can improve well-being.
Social neuroscientist, John Cacioppo's loneliness theory suggests that when people feel lonely, they become more motivated to meaningfully connect with others as a remedy against the negative emotions, thoughts and feelings associated with loneliness.
In 2018, the BBC carried out the world's largest loneliness study and found that 40% of 16 to 24-year-olds reported feeling lonely. This might seem like an alarming finding, but Cacioppo's theory suggests that there may be a window of opportunity to alleviate loneliness and keep it at bay before it becomes harmful.
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This is where live phone calls can help. Calling someone you feel close to and engaging in a meaningful conversation over the phone can alleviate loneliness and help young people reconnect with others. Although phone calls are not a panacea for loneliness, they can have beneficial effects.
Having dialogue in real time also helps us clarify things by creating an opportunity to ask questions and listen, along with sharing knowledge and ideas in a mutual space. The benefits of this reciprocity and being present with another can help with problem-solving and reduces misunderstandings, which can be interpreted as social rejection.
Many of us have had the experience of getting the tone or intention of a text confused, which has sent us into a bit of a tailspin. It's harder to confuse what someone means on a phone call. And if you do, it's easy to ask for clarification.
Change your habits, make a call
As well as helping with loneliness, phone calls with a friend or relative can help regulate our nervous system and create feelings of belonging in ways which are lost when we don't use our voices.
When we make calls, we pick up cues through the rhythm of the voice, the way it rises and falls, which can help us feel safe, build trust and create warm and cozy feelings that can support the nervous system.