Gen Z wants to bring back the retro art of the phone call

Gen Z is discovering a new love language — phone calls.

Unlike most of her peers, Kira Russell, a 22-year-old student from the Jersey Shore, is not an avid texter. To get a hold of her, friends know that they need to give her a ring.

“I would much rather tell somebody, ‘Omigod, I got a new job’ or that I did something cool,” said Russell, who prefers to communicate through phone or, better yet, FaceTime video calls. “Seeing their reaction to what we’re talking about just makes it feel more personal to me.”

If an unwarranted text pops up on Russell’s phone, she’ll either ignore it or give a terse “yes” or “no” answer. “If they want to elaborate, they can call me.”

We live in a time of texting — and not just for teens and 20-somethings. On average, Americans text twice as much as they call, and text message response rates are 209 percent higher than those from phone calls, according to the Local Project’s US texting statistics. Cellphone users ages 18 to 24 send and receive an average of 3,853 texts a month, up 653 messages from Pew Research’s text messaging report in 2011. Peloton instructors go on humorous diatribes against phone calls, while characters in 2021’s “Shiva Baby” — an indie comedy beloved by 20-something filmgoers — mocks the fact that the younger generation is hesitant to pick up the phone.

But some millennials and Zoomers are rebelling against the texting takeover, insisting people pick up the phone and call them — even if it makes them social pariahs.

Jessica Quintero, 28, has been talking to loved ones on the phone daily since she was a teenager.
Matthew McDermott

“I’ve had those moments where someone’s like ‘Why are you calling me?’ ” said avid phone-caller Mitchell Gonzales, 24.

But he doesn’t let it bother him. “I just don’t call them again.”

The freelance animator from Boston usually asks his friends, as well as potential romantic interests, over text if they’re free to talk before cold-calling them. “If they say yes, I get extra excited,” he said. Phone calls feel “extra special. Now it feels like writing a letter to someone.”

He said he prefers the intimacy, and nuance, of voice communication. “You can be funnier on the phone,” he said. “You can get that hint of sarcasm that sometimes can be missed in a text. Someone writing ‘LOL’ could’ve had a straight face.”

Still, for most young people, calling someone instead of sending a text feels like too much, too soon.

Kira Russell, 22, who often calls friends while picking up her morning coffee, thinks texting is too impersonal.
Kira Russell, 22, who often calls friends while picking up her morning coffee, thinks texting is too impersonal.
Courtesy of Kira Russell

“There’s a time and place for texting, and there’s a time and place for phone calls,” conceded Natasha Chandel, a millennial Los Angeles TV writer and podcast host. “A lot of us are working individuals, and we’re running around and it doesn’t always make sense to hop on the phone.”

Chandel, whose show ‎”Kinda Dating” explores issues around contemporary relationships and commitment, said that due to the nature of modern dating apps, it makes sense for an initial conversation to begin over text.

“Some people might just feel more confident being able to articulate themself in a text,” said Chandel, a millennial who declined to give her age for professional reasons.

She does admit that refusing to pick up the phone once things progress could be a red flag. “I think the problem comes when that’s your entire style of communication,” said Chandel.

But for 28-year-old Jessica Quintero, texting just doesn’t have the same ring as calling someone, whether a friend or a love interest.

“Listening to someone’s voice is so much more genuine,” said Quintero, who works in hospitality and lives in Queens. “You don’t have to think about how you’re typing or what you’re saying. It’s natural.”

She calls several friends daily while doing her makeup and getting ready for work, a habit that she’s held onto since high school when she said texting wasn’t as mainstream.

Regular phone calls are crucial for maintaining friendships for Quintero, who can indicate who her real friends are by how often they talk on the phone.
Regular phone calls are crucial for maintaining friendships for Quintero, who can indicate who her real friends are by how often they talk on the phone.
Matthew McDermott

Recently, she said her cousin visited from Colombia, and was surprised by the sheer number of incoming calls Quintero received.

“She’s like ‘This is unusual. It’s an invasion of privacy,’ ” Quintero said.

Yet for Quintero, the difference between texters and people who take the time to call shows her who her real friends are.

“I don’t want to sit and text you back and forth when I can have a 30-minute conversation and sum it all up,” she said. “I don’t want to surround myself with people who are bothered to be on the phone with me.”