No, this is not about hearing the voices of little green men inside your head telling you to run naked through the Dairy Queen for the glory of God. (If any of you are hearing those voices, please exit this blog immediately and Google “Help me”.)
It’s about the importance of voice as a part of our identities. If you think this is minor, think about that little thrill of pleasure you get when you recognize a voice on the phone of a friend or a lover or a family member you’ve been hoping to hear from. (Let’s assume you’ve turned off Caller ID. Damn if modern conveniences haven’t robbed us of some of the fun in life, even as they’ve protected us from its annoyances.) Each of our voices is so unique, that like our brain, our voice is who we are. And the interpretations and expectations we have of other people’s voices are quite fascinating to me.
I’ve been thinking about this ever since Anarchist (aka spencercourt) posted “When Steve Met Susie”. http://spencercourt.wordpress.com/2009/02/15/when-steve-met-susie/ In it he says that when he first met Susie, she had such a strong Southern accent that he often had trouble understanding her. I know just what he means. The first night I spent in Des Moines, I was watching the TV news and couldn’t understand half of what was going on. While my Southern accent is not that extreme, in my opinion, when I moved to Iowa people were constantly saying “Huh?” Then there was the part about asking me to say certain words, because it just sounded so darn cute. After living there for a year I returned to New Orleans for a visit, and people there said I now talked funny. I had unconsciously picked up a bit of the Midwestern accent.
The main problem I have is that my voice is very deep, and it is not at all uncommon for me to have people on the phone (especially if they are from Sprint or Comcast) call me “Sir”. Never mind that I’ve already introduced myself as “Phyllis”—half of them think I said “Phillip”. I just keep talking until it becomes obvious to them and they get embarassed.
I construct imaginary pictures of people I talk to frequently based on their voices. At work I often talk to people I will never meet. We are just voices on the phone. But by the same token, we now have the ability through the magic of the Internet to see pictures of people we will probably never speak to, so of course I construct imaginary voices to go with the pictures. If you do this too–and don’t lie, you know you do–my unscientific personal research has shown this: You will always be wrong.
Take this example: Long ago I managed a fast-food restaurant. Across the street was a little house where they ran a phone-sex operation. The girls came into the restaurant all the time for meals. They were very nice and friendly (a good job skill to have in their line of work, I guess.) But without fail, every one of them weighed 300 pounds and had last washed their hair during the previous hurricane season. I’m just saying, keep that in mind next time you dial 1-900-SEX-KITY. (P.S. Do not try this at home, I made up the number. Really.)