The humble phone call made a comeback

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In Albany, Louisiana, priests and deacons at St. Margaret Queen of Scotland Church recently divided a list of 900 parishioners to call to verify them, which they never did because they saw their members in person. Some of the rural community outside New Orleans were suspicious when they answered, accustomed to automated calls from unknown numbers.

But Brad Doyle, the associate priest, said they relaxed when he started speaking. They talked about their daily routines and said that they missed Sunday service, especially before Easter. A devotee went into the details of the Netflix documentary “Tiger King”. Many just wanted to hear a prayer, he said.

Grace McClellan, 32, a high school teacher in Charleston, S.C., has also turned to phone calls as an antidote to the loneliness of living outside of family and friends. She started synchronizing a daily walk and conversation with her best friend, who lives in Connecticut. With her friend’s voice passing through her headphones, “It feels as close as possible to a real walk together,” said Ms. McClellan.

The return of the voice call is a step backwards for telecommunications companies. For years, Verizon, CenturyLink and AT&T have removed the copper wire telephone lines that were introduced 150 years ago.

Instead, companies have invested in broadband networks and increased capacity for things like high-resolution video and video games. They’ve also strengthened their networks to manage next-generation wireless technology, called 5G, which will allow people to download a movie in seconds and could spur a wave of driverless automotive technology and robotics.

“For years, we have seen a steady decline in the time people spend talking to each other, especially on wireless devices,” said Kyle Malady, chief technology officer at Verizon, in a statement. “The decision to stay at home has rekindled the hunger of people to stay connected, voice to voice.”

The surge in voice calls is both professional and personal, said Chris Sambar, AT&T executive vice president, Technology and Operations. Before the spread of the coronavirus resulted in home orders, wireless calls generally peaked in the morning and evening rush hour. Once people arrived at their offices and schools, the volume of calls dropped.

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