Culture

The phone call is making a comeback thanks to social distancing

With 95 percent of Americans under lockdown, people are longing for human interaction. Phone calls, it turns out, scratch that itch.

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With nearly 306 million people in the U.S. following various full and partial lockdown and stay-at-home orders, COVID-19 has made socializing impossible. Restaurants and bars are empty, playgrounds are closed, and schools and offices are shut. The streets of some of the most crowded metropolises in the country are barren. But, while in-person interaction has plummeted over the past few weeks, a relic of communications is making a rather endearing comeback: the phone call.

Telecommunication companies like Verizon and AT&T report seeing a massive surge in phone calls across the country in recent weeks. It turns out instant messaging, Snaps, and Tik Tok posts just aren't at good at satisfying our need for human connection as the sound of a familiar voice.

800 Million calls per day — Last week, Verizon CEO Hans Vestburg told CNBC that the company witnessed a so massive a spike in phone calls on its network that it outnumbered those made on traditionally call-heavy days like Mother's Day and New Year's Eve. According to Vestburg:

We’ve had 800 million calls a day. That’s double the amount of calls you would have on Mother’s Day, which is the busiest [Sunday] of the year.

AT&T reports similar findings: a 35 percent rise in calls since the outbreak began.

"No, you hang up" — The time spent on calls has increased as well. Phone conversations are 33 percent longer than usual. And we're using text, too. Text messages on Verizon's network have shot up to 9 billion a day. The New York Times, too, has reported on people calling their loved ones for no particular reason other than to hear their voices. Which is the kind of feel good news we really appreciate these days.

VPN and gaming apps shine, too — In addition to calls and texts, game apps have seen a surge as well. Gaming on the Verizon network has shot up by 107 percent while people's use of VPNs has gone up 50 percent, according to Vestburg.

The beauty of a simple call — There is no denying that phone calls can be awkward sometimes... especially if the last time you were on one with anything other than a robot there was still a Democrat in the White House. But hearing a familiar and trusted voice has been shown to be good for our mental health, including our ability to cope with adversity.

After all, conversation is one of the most humanizing and vital aspects of social interaction. It helps us ground ourselves, empathize, connect, understand, and endure uncertainty. It makes us feel less lonely. And while research indicates that person-to-person interaction is the most fortifying form of socializing, listening to a friend, partner, or family member's voice right now is better than nothing at all.