Phone voices. As much as you might like to think so, you have one. We all have one. We inherited it from our mothers, who inherited it from theirs, and as a result, every person on the planet takes on a very particular inflexion when pressing a receiver to their ear.
You know what the phone voice sounds like. It’s different for everyone. For me? It’s my voice – just more refined; quieter; extremely polite; maybe ever so slightly patronising. What is it about the phone that makes us change personas? Why do we suddenly sound nothing like ourselves when chatting over a phone line? We insist on taking on this new character of ‘phone-me’ – and only phone-me is qualified to talk to the dentist/ receptionist/ survey taker, not regular-me, who would inevitably embarrass us somehow.
The phone-voice is like the original social media – we want to sound like we’re living our best life as a cool, calm and collected upper-class lady. We try to convince the receptionist (who is almost definitely using their phone voice too) that we are sitting in a velvet armchair, manicured nails grasping the receiver as we tick this errand off the gilded to-do list before moving on to inquire about our next delivery of caviar. When, in reality, we actually are in three-day-old pyjamas and had to rush to swallow the mouthful of Doritos we were chewing before the other end answered.
The question that keeps floating around my head is this; why do we perceive the phone voice to be the best version of ourselves? Why is this simperingly-sweet but-simultaneously-quite-cold woman the one I refer to when I want to sound my best? I don’t know her. I’m definitely not her in any other instance of my day-to-day life. I am much closer in resemblance to the Dorito image I painted above. I’m not particularly loud, but I do have a personality, I like to think I’m warm and conversational, and, perhaps most importantly, I have a thick Dublin accent, which I’ve been told tends to grow exponentially based on how annoyed I am.
In recent months, I’ve become fascinated with the concept of the phone voice, and how prevalent, and quite widely accepted, it is. Sure, we all engage in gentle slagging of each other when hearing how we talk on the phone, but we could never abandon phone voice. How could we get anything done? I’ve only just mastered making my own doctors’ appointments without dying of awkwardness, and phone voice is pretty much the only thing getting me through. But, since phone voice is actually complete fiction, doesn’t it make sense to leave it by the roadside?
As you get older, at least in my experience, you become more invested in being your most authentic self. The charade of teenage crowd-following gradually falls away and we become more comfortable in our own skin as we (literally) grow into it. Everyone over thirty has told me that after their twenties was when they truly began to feel confident, self-assured and indifferent to others opinions. It’s odd, then, that the phone voice seems to be at its most popular in middle-aged women. I guess even age doesn’t dissolve the little voice inside that demands we be as palatable as possible to others – the phone voice, as it were.
I’m not suggesting that we all become raving lunatics on the phone, being incredibly rude and firing off expletives left, right and centre at the poor, unsuspecting answerer. Obviously, manners maketh man and respect is the absolute most important thing when dealing with others. But, as those phone-voicing mothers always told us, be yourself. Throw phone-voice away and let your accent fly free.