Thursday, July 7, 2011

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Reach Out and Touch Someone


A friend and I were having lunch. “Listen, I’ve got to show you this.” From his pocket he extracted a slim rectangle, about the size of five credit cards clumped together. “My new smart phone,” he bragged. “I’ve joined the brave new world of multiple communications. I can know immediately what goes on anywhere in the world. Let me show you the things it can do. The only thing I haven’t figured out is how to get it to serve me breakfast in bed.”

“With your job that makes sense. But I’m not that important,” I offered. “My cell phone is the dumbest one I could find. I think it takes pictures but I’ve never tried. I only use it when I travel. Most of the time it is stashed in the cup holder of my van, turned off. When I need it, I turn it on.”

The first phone I remember, an oak box which hung on our kitchen wall, looked to my young eyes like a bug-eyed face. The “nose” was actually the mouthpiece and the two bulging shiny “eyes” formed the ringer. When you needed to make a call, you turned a handle on the right side of the box to alert the operator at the switchboard so she could put it through for you. The ear piece hung on a hook on the other side. You removed it from the hook, held it to your ear and spoke into the “nose”. We, like most rural people, were on a party line. Our ring was two longs and one short. Everybody back then thought they had to yell into the phone to be heard.

The party line had its own unwritten rules of etiquette. There were eight families on our line. The rings for each neighbor sounded in every home. We knew who was getting a call but did not dare listen in. Not often, anyway. (There was one woman on the line who listened to everything.) I remember once picking up the phone very slowly, very carefully, not breathing. I thought Charlotte might be on the line with her boyfriend. I must not have been careful enough. Her mother barked at me to hang up. My face burned bright red with shame. My worst crime was doing homework by phone. I did Jerry’s English and he did my Algebra. Sometimes we hogged the phone for an hour. But if we heard a clicking we knew somebody needed the line and we hung up.

Our next phone was a modern desk style made of Bakelite. We had a choice of colors, black or black. Its innards were built to work forever. To make a call, you had to stick your finger into a round hole and manually twirl the dial around the circle. Each finger slot in the circle had its own number with corresponding letters. My Dad still thought he had to yell into the phone.

Today’s new phones certainly are a marvel. One can twitter and tweet. Surf the net. Read a book. Watch a movie. Make a video. Txt msg. Send and receive email. Balance your checking account. Work up a power point presentation. And on rare occasions, speak with another human, voice to voice.

For many people, cell phones have become their only phone. Out here in isolated Gopher Prairie, where we still holler over the back fence, we have spotty cell phone service, so I am not ready to give up my land line. However, in the last few years service has improved. I no longer have to go outside and climb onto my roof to use my cell phone.

New-fangled phones certainly have created a mess of controversy. Take the current hot issue of driving while using a cell phone. I don’t dare do it. When I am on the phone with a friend, I have a tendency to go to a place deep within, to focus on our conversation. Lord knows what would happen if I were trying to maneuver through traffic at the same time. Imagine the carnage I could cause. It is not a good idea for me to multi-task while moving down the road.

With all the brilliant advances in communication gadgets, I wonder if we have truly improved our ability to communicate with one another. We have such a variety of ways to get in touch that we rarely need to speak. I can now have new on-line “friends” scattered around the world, whom I will never meet. I can’t figure out how people find the time to feed these friendships. As for myself, I like to call my friends and arrange to meet for lunch so we can talk across the soup and sandwiches, face to face, catching every nuance of expression, every twinkle of eye.

Meanwhile, your call is important to me. Your waiting time is approximately six hours and eighteen minutes. Please enjoy the music while your party is being reached.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

July 7, 2011


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