Living on speed dial

Words by Chermaine Wong
Art by Bridget Melville

“Hello, may I speak to __ please?” was the first thing I’d always say when I rang up my friend’s home.

There was never a direct number to call a particular person. You might end up talking to their mum, or brother instead, and it wasn’t always a hundred per cent that they would be home too. It was seriously a hassle looking for someone back then, until mobile phones became a trend.

Mobile phones turned into smartphones and I have never been more dependent on anything else. I use my smartphone to make payments, take notes, arrange my schedule and keep in contact with people.

The weird thing about me is that although I have my parents and partner on speed dial, I barely call them. I have unlimited free calls, but before this challenge, my last phone call was 5 days ago to the man delivering my pizza at 3am (which I ordered through the phone application). Most of the time when I receive a call, I’d simply mute my phone thinking if it’s important, they’ll message me if I don’t answer.

The challenge

  • Whatever can be done by phone call must be done by phone call, including purchase of tickets, booking of places and taxis, etc. 

The hurdles

  • I’m a night owl – but others are not and I can’t call them while they are asleep
  • Plan a road trip with my partner and two other friends – I am unable to liaise with them through messages.
  • I will be staying on a farm with Wi-Fi – there might be no phone connection, only internet. 

Day 0: It begins

A day before my challenge started, I sent out a mass message to my friends and family that I would not be able to reply to messages for the next ten days. I sent them out on WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook and Instagram. Most importantly, I tasked my boyfriend to keep my Snapchat streaks for me and I was ready to go.

Day 1 – 2: Trouble, trouble

First day of the challenge, I was doing the final planning for my road trip at 4am and had to confirm a meeting point and time with my friends. For the past two weeks, all I had to do was message them my plan and left it there for them to read. However with the challenge, all I could do at that point was write a note to myself and and call them the next day which made me feel a little annoyed and I had trouble sleeping with the feeling of unfinished business.

The next day, I had a field trip for my winter semester unit and had to meet with my classmates at Enterprize Park, but I was running late. Normally I would have gotten an Uber through the phone application but this time, I waited over 30 minutes on the 13CABS hotline during their peak hour. It would have taken me less than 30 minutes to reach the park if I had simply used the application to get Uber. Upon reaching, I couldn’t find my classmates and the field trip had already started. I tried calling everyone but no one picked up. I was desperate to find them but they were all texting, only asking “busy, what’s up?” but determined to stick to the challenge, I kept calling until one of my friends picked up and guided me to where they were. It was especially hard because they couldn’t message me their pin drop of the exact location. At this point, I questioned myself why did I choose such a timing to commence my challenge?

Day 3 – 5: Road trip

First day of road trip, 9am was drawing near and my friends were still not calling me to say they are arriving. I called them at 8.40am and they had just woken up because they didn’t see my message of what time we were supposed to meet and forgot that it was at 9am. To add salt to the wound, they did not know where the meeting location was and wanted me to send them the address on WeChat. It was barely the third day so I ran around the city looking for them.

At the farm, I had to inform my family that I had safely arrived, but to do that, I had to call them. I constantly looked on in jealousy at my friends’ phones to see them enjoying the internet, messaging away. I didn’t connect my phone to the Wi-Fi to prevent me from messaging and only connected my tablet for Netflix (Thank God Netflix and YouTube weren’t taken away from me). But, because I didn’t connect to the internet on my phone, I couldn’t even make a call through Messenger or WhatsApp to my family and I had to check my phone constantly for cell service throughout the day.

Without any internet or phone service, my phone was used for it’s camera function only, for the three days I was on the road trip. I basically threw it aside and enjoyed myself which was really fun as it made me more aware of the beauty and nature that I was experiencing. I even managed to book a ghost tour through their hotline instead of online which made things really interesting as the call had a man talk in ghastly voices and evil laughters to match the theme. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to experience that if I had simply booked the ghost tour ticket online.


Day 6-8: I cheated

After coming back from my trip, one of my assignments was due soon and I had questions for my tutor. I tried calling the number on the unit guide only for it to be answered by the voicemail and this made me more and more anxious as time passed. The deadline was nearing and I was getting desperate which led me to cheat on the challenge. So less than a week into my challenge, I cheated and emailed my tutor. I did, however, try to make it up by calling Monash Connect instead of sending an Ask.Monash enquiry for my internship questions. It made me realise how fast I could get an answer when I make a phone call instead of waiting over two days to find out the exact same thing through email.

The convenience from emailing my tutor stuck with me for the whole of day seven of the challenge. The ease and convenience of anything but a phone call to deal with things or simply chat with a friend was too hard. I decided to stay home and watch some movies to distract myself from using anything related to phones. But, around lunch time, I got hungry and requested my boyfriend buy food for me on his way home from his friend’s place. However, as a fickle-minded person, I changed my mind and wanted to let him know but his phone is permanently on silent so he couldn’t hear my calls. This was very frustrating for me as I could have simply sent him a text to inform him of the change as he checks his Facebook messages on his laptop quite often.

Ultimately, on day eight, I couldn’t stand not texting anymore. I missed my parents and couldn’t text nonsense to them. Because of the challenge, I could only call. But, my parents work round the clock so I never knew when they would be free for me to call so my time with them during the challenge shortened a lot. As an international student, I often miss my family and not talking to them everyday makes me very uncomfortable and easily agitated. Due to this, I gave up on the challenge two days short of the planned ten days.

The takeaway

Thanks to this challenge, I surprisingly learnt that sometimes the shortcut might get you to the same place, but you will miss out on a wonderful journey. Instead of being in front of something beautiful and missing out because I was busy updating my friends and family about it, I got to see more of the finer details. Lastly, it made me appreciate my parents more, as when I couldn’t call them it made me realise how hard they work.

I likely won’t change my ways of neglecting phone calls for messages, but I will definitely start picking up the phone more often for different things like booking tickets and general enquiries.



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