Episode 18: Phone calls go the way of the dodo

by Yvonne Harris

In this episode of Welcome to the New Normal, we wonder if Gen Z phone anxiety is causing calls to become extinct.

Employers need to accept that young people don’t like phone calls. News that ringtone downloads are in terminal decline highlights just how much the way we use their phones is changing, and what might have been acceptable 10 years ago is increasingly unacceptable, and even counterproductive.

Tune in to the Welcome to the New Normal audio podcast now and follow along with the script below.


Watch out companies: Using phones the old-fashioned way – to make actual phone calls – has gone the way of the dodo.

There are important implications for employers.

So put your phone on silent and listen up 🙂

So, what’s the news?

Well, people aren’t downloading ringtones for their phones anymore.

Er… So what?

British research company Sensor Tower has reported that ringtone downloads fell by 20% between 2016 and 2020 and that it’s on a thermal trajectory.

It used to be a massive market… Way back in 2004, a Swedish ringtone creator made about €50 million out of a deeply annoying ringtone, the crazy frog. We won’t play it to you. Honestly, you’d hate us.

Tony: And here I’m going to come clean: I’m just on the wrong side of millennial, and sadly, I remember the crazy frog. I also remember the adverts in magazines: dial a premium number to download a ringtone. Seems like a lifetime ago…

Well, this may not be news for anyone under 40 – that’s millennials and the younger Gen-Zs…. But for the older generation, still regularly use their mobile phones to make actual phone calls, this bit of news underlines important changes in the way we interact at work.

There’s quite a bit to dig into here.

Firstly, according to research that British telecom’s regulator ‘OFCOM’ did into what it refers to as “generation mute”, younger people prefer to keep their phones on silent. Hence, no ringtones.

A lot of this comes from the experience of using phones at school – they are banned in most countries – so discretion is the order of the day.

And more and more young people, and especially women it seems, have wearable devices that alert them to incoming messages.

And while it may seem obvious that young people prefer messaging to talking indiscreetly on the phone, there’s an important lesson to take from this.

What’s that? Well, young people find talking on the phone annoying and stressful.

According to research from BankMyCell, 75% of Millennials say talking on the phone is too time-consuming.

They don’t like the “small talk” aspect of phone calls – those niceties and greetings our parents and grandparents see as essential for a polite exchange.

81% of respondents to the survey said that they found phone calls, especially unsolicited incoming calls from, say, the boss, a colleague, or even parents, rude and anxiety-inducing.

Basically, phone calls stress people out. It’s official.

That has implications for employers (who tend to be older than their employees) who reach out to their people by phone.

You’ve got to get with the times, give employees modern messaging platforms like Microsoft Teams for internal communications, use these tools yourself, and avoid calling your employees out of the blue.

And I guess that more and more, the same goes for contacting customers, prospects, and partners on the phone…

Tony: Here again, I’m going to show my age… My first job after university was as an advertising manager. Selling ad space, basically. I had a database of contacts, marketing managers, media buyers, and so forth, and I’d ring around the people I knew, make a few cold calls to people I’d never spoken to before, and it worked. I sold advertising space. I’m not sure this approach works anymore…

So, making phone calls, and having a loud ringtone… it’s old-fashioned, impolite, and stress-inducing.

And who wants to look old, right?


OK, here’s some market research about not looking old.

A survey for British company Love Energy Savings found that making phone calls is “one of the things that immediately make you look old” for a large chunk of Millennials and Gen-Zers.

So, what else makes you look old?

Well, some of the answers are obvious, some are surprising, and given that it’s a British survey, some of these are super quaint too.

Top of the list is… surprisingly… using cash! Yup, 28 percent of people under 40 think using cash makes you look old-fashioned. How times change…

The same number of people think keeping a handkerchief up your sleeve makes you look old. Well, I may be just on the wrong side of 40 to be a millennial, but I’ve never done that! My grandmother did though…

Here are some more surprises at the top of the list.

Get your bills sent by post? You look old.

Do you write lists with pen and paper? You look old, although this is a bit unfair, as writing is nice

They’ll say that reading paper books is passed-it next…

Do you call a taxi rather than using an app? Again, you look old.

Watch regular TV? Use Facebook? Smoke cigarettes? You’re a dinosaur, well at least as far as the young are concerned.

Do you think any of this is fair?


6.4 billion

That’s 6.4 billion smartphone users worldwide (Statista, 2021).

Considering that the global population is at 7.9 billion, that means a smartphone penetration of over 80 percent.

It’s growing relentlessly. Just five years ago in 2016, there were just 3.7 billion smartphone users.

It’s expected to rise to 7.5 billion by 2026.

But will people be using them to speak to each other, or just to chat, watch videos, maybe upload a TikTok resume?

Let us know what you think.

You can contact us through all the usual channels.

Just not by phone

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