Phone Phobia. Email Philia.

Several years ago I  read in one of those “self-help” publications that one must treat her telephone as her best friend and business ally. 
“In order to receive good news via telephone one must treat each phone call as a potential source of good news,” the article said.
– Ah, how wonderful! – I thought. – Besides working hard making my films and sending them out to as many film festivals as I can if I also kiss good night to my phone and tell it “I love you” time to time then I will be as successful as Bill Plympton!
I had observed in the past that Bill Plympton eagerly picks up his phone every time it rings as if missing a phone call would mean missing an Oscar nomination.
I, on the other hand, am only happy to miss a phone call. Once I spent my whole birthday lounging in bed, napping, reading magazines and listening to my answering machine picking up phone calls wishing me happy birthday. That surely beat going to an overpriced restaurant where it’s too loud to talk. Throwing a party for 100 people is too much work, too. But after deliberately missing hundreds of phone calls and responding to the ones I got with: -Ah, it’s you. What do you want? – my phone stopped ringing.
Reading that “self-help” article made me realize that my relationship with a phone should be improved. 
– I love you, – I said to the phone and kissed it. – Now bring me good news!
It rung. I picked up.
– Hello?
– May I speak to Signe Baumane?
– Yes! – I said as cheerfully as I could, beating my default mode of over-caution. – This is Signe.
– We are a documentary film production company and we are looking for an animator.
A job offer! Great! The article is right – the phone love pays off!
– We like your work and we were wondering if you’d be interested to work with us.
– Of course, I am very interested!
Images of piles of gourmet food and piles of brand new underwear flashed through my head. I needed some cash quite badly.
– Great. We should start by setting up a meeting to get going on storyboards.
Hmm. Strange, they didn’t ask what was my fee. The view of gourmet food got obscured by a cloud of mist. Is there any money in this? How do you ask the money question without appearing to be greedy, or needy? But not asking the question now will lead to unnecessary ambiguity and wasted time later.
I broke into sweat and blurted out:
– What is your budget for animation?
Phew… That was a good way of asking how much they intend to pay me. Good move, Signe!
– We actually don’t have a budget for animation.
– You don’t?
My heart rate went from 70 bpm to 120 bpm. I started to feel the trap – I had expressed my interest to work on the project just a minute earlier, how will I reason the jump to disinterest?
– We were hoping you’d work for free.
You were hoping? How about MY hopes? This was the time to cut the conversation short and hang up. But every time I did that growing up (- Can I have that cupcake? Oh, I can’t? Goodbye!) my mother punished me (now I realize she just needed any excuse to make me weed her garden).
The impulse to be nice prevailed. Small talk makes people happy. Anybody who called me should feel happy, so I ask:
– How many minutes of animation do you need?
– Anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.
1/3 of their doc is going to be animated and they don’t have a budget for it. I need to enlighten them what it takes to make it happen.
– 10 minutes of fully rendered color animation will take me anywhere from 6 month to one year to make. I need to pay rent and eat during that time.
– How about 7 minutes?
I should give them a tough-sounding reply. Here it is:
– I really can’t. Sorry.
– 5 minutes?
They really want me. I am flattered. 
– Well…
– So, yes?
They are very pushy. I should get off the phone before I commit to the biggest mistake of my recent life.
– Let me think about it.
But there is nothing to think about. I just need to get off the phone politely.
– Think about it. Our project will save lives of thousands of starving children and it will enlighten millions of dimwits. You really want to be part of our project – it the the Future of our Planet.
Who can say “no” to the Planet? My set of values is set against me.
– OK. I’ll think about it. 
– We will call you in 2 days.
I hang up and take the rest of the day off to recover from that phone call. I feel bad for rejecting my Planet, but how can I reject my survival needs?
The next time the phone rings I jump, startled. 
– No, I don’t love you, – I tell the ringing phone before picking it up.
– Hello?
– What did you decide?
– Email me detailed info on your project and I’ll get back to you via email! – I shout my orders into the receiver and and hang up.
The doc company emails me the info and in 15 minutes I write an elaborate eloquent reply why I can’t save Future of Planet by starving myself.
I am wary of picking up the phone and when I do it is always with suspicion and irritation – I hate to be interrupted. And the person who calls always wants something that I don’t quite have – my time, my money, my compassion.  
Yes, I am that bad, that selfish, that self-absorbed,  putting my current project above other humans’ needs.
It is striking to me how many people love phones so much that besides landlines they also have several cell phones. I am happy to walk away from a phone that might ring. I am happy to discover that I have forgotten my cell phone at home. I rarely listen to messages and don’t look who’s call I missed. In the age when everybody is keen on getting more connected, I am bent on getting less connected. 
Well. If you don’t count email. I write about 50 emails on a slow day. With email I don’t feel the pressure that a phone call puts on me. There is no immediacy, I can respond when I have time and when I get my mind prepared.
Email never interrupts me. It delivers good news with the same silence as the bad news. Bad news I can just ignore by deleting them. I can dwell on good news by reading them over and over again. When I get angry at an email I can shout at it in privacy before responding politely in writing. 
– I love you, – I tell my email. It might be a little homoerotic love.
I perceive phone as a male, with it’s hard, rigid, tangible structure. Even if it is unreliable, it is there.
Email, on the other hand, is like ovaries – no one ever sees it, but everyone knows it exists as it sends it’s proof of existence once a month via menstruation.

It turns out, Phone Phobia does exist. says so:

If you answer “yes” to any of these, your phone fear may indeed be a phobia,Before and after calls do you…

  • feel extremely anxious when making or receiving calls?
  • delay making phone calls due to anxiety?
  • worry about bothering the other person?
  • worry about what you will say?
  • worry about embarrassing yourself?
  • avoid making calls or have others call for you?
  • obsess what was said after calls?

When on the phone do you…

  • shake?
  • have trouble concentrating?
  • feel nauseous?
  • feel your heart race?

About rocksinmypocketsthemovie

I was born in Latvia, educated in Moscow, live in New York. I have made about 14 animated shorts so far.
This entry was posted in Depression. Personal Stories, Hazards of being an artist, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Phone Phobia. Email Philia.

  1. paolo says:

    Signe, I have phone phobia, too. I am lucky that in my office my phone has a display which shows the calling number, so that I can decide whether to reply or not. And most of the I do not reply: by experience, if the guy calling really needs to contact me, he can write an e-mail. And I can think about the answer. I think that the real problem with telephone is that when you pick it up, you are hooked and if you are not the guy who can decline politely but decidedly, you lose. With e-mail at least you can read it without being hooked and you can think about the answer.

    • Paolo, yes, email gives us space to think and compose a reply. Even for friendly meeting arrangements. If one needs to talk to me on the phone, they email me to arrange that call. But some of my friends think that my email preference over a phone call is little off-putting, they regard phone call as more personal, friendly, intimate. On the other hand – the raise of texting shows that every normal person prefers NOT to receive phone calls.

  2. Jonas says:

    The ones CALLING us creative people and ASKING us if we would like to work for free should have phone phobia! They should actually have ALL SORTS of phobia, e.g. us NOT saving them, when WE mount that flying saucer that will bring us to a safer planet.
    No, honestly, you did the right thing, Signe. I HATE guys that consider creative people so much in need that you can ALWAYS try to bargain over the money. None of these people walks in a car seller’s place and says: “I thought you might just want to have that car away, so I’m going to take it with me now for free…”
    Found an interesting site about all this at

  3. Jonas says:

    THOSE calling creative people and asking if we would like to work for free should have not just PHONE PHOBIA but all sorts of bad dreams!! None of these guys walks in a car seller’s place and tells the sales representative he’s going to take that car for free, just because it is good to see things go and in the streets, it will also be free advertising for the car seller… hahaha.
    Found a great website about all this on Thanks, Signe!

  4. Jonas, thank you for the link! It was good for me to read it to understand the boundaries, as I sometimes have interns who work for free. I always felt that you get what you pay for – interns don’t always understand what work in a studio means, they don’t take directions well, they screw up and hide their mistakes that you uncover 3 month later at expense of huge frustration, they do sloppy work and they chat when they are supposed to work. That plus the thought that if I cant work for free then how can I ask another person to work for me for free stops me from having interns, although I need help right now badly.
    As to people asking me to work for free – no one has money but everybody has great dreams. “All you have to do is to ask” – was it written in some self-help or business management book? So, people ask me. My job is to say no. I just have to learn to say NO better. The problem is, I have empathy for other people’s aspirations and dreams, so it’s hard to say no.

  5. I’m pleased to say that I still do not have a cel phone. I don’t want to be one of those people crossing the street or driving the car with a phone in hand. I like concentrating on one thing at a time, and the needs and desires of the person calling me would impinge on that and make me feel guilty for not giving due attention.

    • YES! that was the same reason I didn’t have a cell phone till few weeks ago, when I was presented with the dilemma – to lose my 212 number I had for 15 years or transfer it to a cell. So, now I have a cell phone that I rarely pick up. Another reason why I don’t like to have a cell – I don’t like to be on a leash. When am away from my studio, I really like to be away. Like you, I prefer to be in the moment, concentrate on things on front of me. Phone calls disrupt that concentration, at least for me. I admire people who can shift their extreme focus from thing to thing. The pleasure I receive from being focussed only on one thing at a time is too strong for me. I ignore phone calls. Maybe that’s why am not a success? Well, if this is a choice – to have a pleasure from doing something or be a success then I prefer pleasure over success….

  6. Hi Signe,

    I am one of those who prefers phone call to e-mail in many, if not most, situations. The problem with e-mail is: even if you spend a lot of time, carefully writing out your ideas, making sure you have covered all of the issues, thought about everything, and then finally hit SEND —

    the person at the other end has to read your email as carefully as you crafted it.

    (1) the recipient might have a smartphone as their main mail reader. Guess what: you have to actually do something to scroll down that tiny screen and read more than one sentence, or possibly two. Most of those droids never read past the first screen. Ever.

    (2) the recipient might have tweet-induced attention deficit disorder (TwIADD, pronounced, well, twead). This syndrome has been observed in every kid under the age of 30 with a smartphone. TIADD sufferers are mentally unable to comprehend anything with more than 160 characters.

    (3) as you realize, when you are engaged in a phone conversation, you are engaged in real, two-way communication with another human being. You can (using the wonderful capacity of our brain to infer meaning from tonal inflections, pauses, and so on) realize the other person has no clue about what you are trying to say; or that they hate your guts, or that they want something you don’t want to give; etc.

    That’s why it is useful to have a phone conversation. I often find myself writing the follow e-mail:

    Please call me now


    • Carl, I would call you but it might be too early to call… : ) I totally agree with you that person receiving an email should read it as carefully as it was crafted. Quite often people respond to my emails by asking a question that was already answered and when I point that out they say they only read the first paragraph. It is imperfect means of communication with imperfect beings that are human. Phone is imperfect means of communication too. Quite often people file their nails or cook their dinner while on the other end you are trying to have a serious conversation. But then – how often we have misunderstood each other while having face to face conversation? The thing that I value the most at a face to face conversation is the other person’s body language. It tells you everything you have to know about the person you are talking to: are they interested in you, do they try to understand you, what do they truly think of the topic, are they generous, are they nice, are they Democrats or Republican, etc. : )

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