Telephones and Other Electronics

The availability of telephone contact all the time, anywhere, has changed our expectations of how much voice usage is normal. Periods of solitude and time-out buffer zones are no longer built in to the rhythm of the day. There are so many things to attend to, so many details of life to share, so many people we can reach out to more often. Talking non-stop is now possible, so why wouldn’t we do it?

The reasons to be careful — mindful — about telephone use are simple, yet paradoxical. In private, with minimal background noise and a mouthpiece up close, the voice is typically used at a low level, in a range of pitch and loudness that feels very small and low effort. Physiologically, this is like driving at the slow end of a gear range in a highway gear. The vocal mechanism tires out because there is so little energy in the system.

For this problem, I recommend standing up and moving around to keep the body active and engaged; deliberately using a wider, more animated pitch range; and of course, sipping water to stay hydrated for any call or series of calls longer than about ten minutes.

Cell-phones calls made on the run, whether in the car or during other away-from-home activities, carry the opposite problem; having to talk too loudly. There is usually background noise, you are busy with other tasks while talking and listening, and despite the best cellular technology there are still moments of interference or unexpected dropouts. Worse, we know that the person on the other end of the conversation is probably embedded in a similar soup of distractions. The ad tagline “Can you hear me know?” is effective because of our chronic uncertainty about whether we’re getting through. This injects further pressure and strain into the vocal instrument.

People unconsciously compensate for each of these conditions by talking more loudly. When several such environmental factors occur at once, it’s common for cell talkers to develop a tense, aggressive speech style that can quickly fatigue or roughen the vocal cords.

What to do? Modify both your behavior and the gear with long-term vocal health and endurance as your goal. Use the techno-gadgetry that is easiest to hear and easiest on your voice rather than choosing whatever is new, expensive, on sale, or has some other extraneous appeal. Minimize what background noise you can; close the car windows and turn the radio off during calls; step away from noisy situations.

Adjusting such ergonomics is only half of the solution, though. You also need to limit the length of your phone calls, alternating with vocal-rest breaks. Don’t keep talking just because you can or because you’ve forgotten how to cope with feeling separate and solitary.

Simply put, you take best care of your voice when you prioritize what needs to be said right now and what you can communicate some other way. Even if you’ve never thought about this before, you can choose to set limits on your voice time. If your voice feels tired or rough, learn to exchange important information, clarify your most important feelings and relationships, then stop!