Wednesday, November 18, 2015

We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

                We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
            The last time I went to a phone store (such a thing!) and asked for a dumb phone, one that just made and received calls, the young clerk looked at me with such pity and compassion, bordering on grief, that I should be so clueless.

Indiana never was a forerunner for national cultural/industrial progress. The first telephone from my childhood was a darkly stained oak box solidly mounted on the kitchen wall. The black conical-shaped speaking tube flared from the center. One cranked the handle on the right to ring the operator to put your call through. The ear funnel hung on a hook to the left. Two “metal eyes” comprised the ringer.

            Our number rang as two longs and a short.  Every woman on the party line knew who was being called and, generally, who placed the call as well as the contents. Not so different from Face Book.

            My Dad never dialed long-distance lightly. Most of my life a call from Dad made me hold my breath waiting to hear who had died. He always yelled as though his voice had to travel the miles unaided. When Ted and Frank, my neighbors on either side, call home, I can hear them through my open door. Makes me wonder if I yell on the phone.

            We moved to the southern Indiana hills when I was in second grade. Our phone, a black Bakelite desk phone, sat on the counter in a kitchen nook. Dad gave me limited permission to use this phone to call classmates and cousins. Out of consideration for the neighbors on the line, my phone use was on a five-minute timer. Our number was 2248. I learned the tell-tale click and whoosh when a neighbor picked up to listen.

            In 1956 Dad realized his dream with another move, to the Milk River farm out of Harlem. At the time I didn’t share his dream but eventually I adjusted. We didn’t have a phone for a couple years; not that I remember, not until we moved into the “big house” from the “labor house”.

            Our phone, the same black desk phone, was wired into the foyer. I spent as many hours as possible, lounging in a chair in the corner, cord wound around my fingers, speaking softly so my nosy sister couldn’t hear. At times seven other persons on our line listened to my “dire” junior high secrets. Not all nosy neighbors are women.

            That phone number served my Dad the rest of his life. (I took over the number when I moved to Harlem in ’06.) I’ve no idea when each line went private. I spent a few years on a ranch south of Dodson with no phone, another time up north of Cut Bank. Matter of fact, I’ve been phoneless several short periods in my life. I’m not saying phoneless is good or that it is bad. There is a freedom.

            This will come as a shock to some, so grab a cup of tea or a stiff drink, your option. But there were olden days, a time before the telephone was invented. Deprived of this device, we inscribed glyphs on dead trees. After “sincerely yours” and a comma, we signed our name, folded the thin scroll into an envelope, licked a stamp on the front and dropped it into a mail box.

The postal service took it from there to its inscribed destination. One of the lost joys of life is to reach into a mail box and withdraw a letter from a friend. Sigh. Now even dinosaurs such as me use email and have “gone paperless”.

            A few of us still make voice calls with an actual phone, cellular or otherwise. The Princess phone, once the epitome of telephone fashion, is an antique. “Cordless”, once the height of technology, is simply another step along the way to obsolescence.        
I’m so ignorant that I don’t even know what the latest device is called. Probably an I-Something. Along with possibly making calls, the device also allows you to follow weather, sports, local, national and international news, the stock market (both cows and investments), bank accounts, plane crashes, prison breaks, horoscope, Dear Abby, and obituaries. It tracks your progress along the road, tells you where to turn, sends videos, knows the best time to plant tomatoes in North Havre. It does everything but communicate.

            Communication requires people. Plural. Nearest I can tell, these new devices require a dual implant, one side to hand, other side to ear. A lot of words pass through its system but I question how much communication happens. Most of the content I overhear, sorry I cannot help but overhear, is filled with “I” statements. The word “selfies” says it all. 

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

November 19, 2015

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