Long-distance for the Fun of It

Calling long-distance used to be something we only did on an occasional basis. A short call in the middle of a trip to parents or children used to be enough to make sure everyone knew you were okay and were having an appropriately wonderful time (or an appropriately horrible/busy time if it’s a business trip). Now that we have international SIM cards, better domestic roaming deals that are improving all the time and VOIP, it’s easier than ever before to call long distance. Now we don’t need to do it out of obligation or security, we can, if we want, just do it for fun. So here are a few ways to talk to people in other countries that don’t require any reason whatsoever.

Unfortunately, for the moment, you can’t call the Swedish Number any more. Partly as a way to boost tourist interest, and partly to commemorate the abolition of censorship in the country in 1766, the Swedish Tourist Board set up a phone line that would connect callers from around the world with a random Swedish person. British comedy panel show, QI, recently tried this out for themselves, in front of a live studio audience. The result was a brief but charming encounter with a Swedish man who was, at the time, shopping for groceries. For the 79 days that the line was open, a whole year’s worth of calls were logged, with most interest being shown by callers from the USA. The project was a huge success and hopefully, it will return soon.

This does not mean you’ve missed your chance to speak to a random European. Impressed by the success of their northern neighbor, France has launched the French Number, their version of the same thing. Don’t worry if you don’t speak French, as anyone who signs up to receive random calls has committed to speaking English. Alternately, you could talk to a random person in a number of different countries, determined not by their location, but by religion – at least, that’s what the Jewish Number promises. There are people from all over the world registered and ready to take your random calls, including Buenos Aires, Berlin and Kiev.

Of course, the internet is tailor-made for chatting with random strangers. There have been thousands of chat rooms and video chat sites over the years that have offered a way for strangers to connect with each other. Inevitably, of course, this being the internet, things are often, shall we say, corrupted, and made less enjoyable on account of the increasing likelihood of someone saying, or worse, showing something inappropriate. Really, the safest option is a voice chat, as you can’t see anything, and it’s harder to troll someone when you’re speaking out loud. One of the most successful and frankly, strangest, of these apps is called Wakie.

When it was first launched in 2014, Wakie seemed counter-intuitive. Combining a call with an alarm clock doesn’t seem like something that would take off. After all, if you’re anything like me, words of more than one syllable first thing in the morning is a bit of a struggle. However, based on the results collated by its predecessor, a Russian app called Budist, it makes more sense than at first glance. The theory is that despite not being fully operational when it wakes up, a person’s brain is at its most creative. In addition, a conversation is a far more effective method of fully regaining consciousness after sleeping, and users reported that it was far more effective than a bleeping alarm. Within its first year of operation, the Budist app boasted 700,000 users.

When it started, Wakie worked in the same way. Using VOIP and hiding both connected numbers for security reasons, people could set an alarm or offer themselves up as ‘wakers’. The original call length was set to just one minute, which led to some amusing and bizarre situations. Now, however, the app has evolved. Not only are conversations capped at 10 minutes, you can choose a subject that you want to talk about, and someone can call you at any time you want. There are still the usual problems with talking to anyone random – occasional bad and/or creepy behavior, for example – but with two million users in 80 countries, it’s one of the few social network apps that is genuinely social.