Do we really need this call?

Jessamyn West is a freelancer, and that means that she has to talk on the phone to earn her crust. This sucks.

I'm with her. I get as much done as I do by stacking up queues and clearing them in sequences that I dynamically rebalance based on the time-slices I have in any given day. There's a small set of phoners I really must do — things that shouldn't be committed to writing, things that require a high degree of urgent interactvity — but I often feel like a huge slice of people treat "talking on the phone" as the default, rather than the exception, when it comes to collaboration.

It's something of a "new media/old media" split — "Old media faxes stuff, just like the Librarian of Congress. New media bills by the hour. Old media is on salary."

The calls usually are a way for people to tell me about their organization's mission (which I read on their website) or to explain to me the scope of the project (which will need to be re-sent in an email) or to negotiate fees (which must be nailed down in a hard copy contract and usually floated by other people in management before they're finalized) or to chitchat about the weather in Vermont. Occasionally they are openings for me to make a pitch for what I'd like to do and then be told that they'd like me to do something completely different, something not in my wheelhouse, something they should probably have gotten someone else to do. And then we talk about who else could maybe do that.

I get that "but the light is better over here…" feeling from these interactions. I'm empathetic concerning many things, but I do not know what exactly these discussions are for. They're not a part of my process, creative or otherwise, and they keep me from my actual work. They seem to involve cultivating social capital that I don't want or need.

I do public speaking, I give workshops, I write articles, editorials and books. Listening to me talk on the phone will not give you a very good idea of how I am in front of an audience. Our talk will not allow you to gauge how well my writing will affect your readers. Talking to me for twenty minutes will not give you an indication about how I am with deadlines or whether I can write to spec. The things that I want most out of a meeting — concrete ideas about deliverables, timeframes and money — are sidelined so that I can receive gossip about the interpersonal squabbles that define the organization or get a description of the person who I'll actually be working with if I take the project. These things are more important for the person to tell me than for me to hear. And that has value at some level, but does it have value to me?

The Tyranny of the Telephone [Jessamyn West/The Message]

(via The Awl)