Geri-Antics: Modern technology, part four

Published 12:02 pm Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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By Anne Carmichael


The first phone call was made to Thomas Watson, who was Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant,” Mr.Watson, come here. I want to see you,” were the first words transmitted via the telephone.

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Not since Bell uttered those words on March 10, 1876, have phones worldwide stopped ringing. The shape, size, colors, and technology have changed dramatically over the last 147 years, but the perception of the telephone as an indispensable necessity has magnified a thousandfold.

As a kid, I remember picking up the heavy black receiver of our phone and listening in on the neighbor’s conversations. My mother would scold me when she caught me eavesdropping on the party line, but as I recall, she always asked me what was said. A certain etiquette was to be observed when one was on a party line. If you picked the phone up and heard someone talking, you gently returned the receiver to its cradle and gave the person speaking another five minutes before picking it up again.

If there was a true emergency, it was acceptable to interrupt and politely ask them to hang up. Still, you’d better hope the emergency was legitimate because if the neighbors discovered you were just scamming them to get the line, you wouldn’t be able to get a call through for a good, long time.

Fortunately, our days on the party line were numbered once my mom built her beauty shop adjacent to our house, and we then became a two-line household.

Shortly after we secured two phone lines, I turned 13 and became the proud owner of my own phone. It was a baby blue princess phone with a lighted dial so that I could see to make calls after lights out.

Even 50-plus years ago, my telephone was as vital to my survival as the blood that coursed through my veins, and with every passing year, its significance became more and more essential.

I feel so sorry for my grandchildren, who will never know the profound satisfaction of being able to express one’s anger and dissatisfaction by slamming down the phone’s receiver. They’ll also never be able to place a prank call without the person on the receiving end knowing who is calling. On the plus side, never will they have to receive a call from someone to whom they do not wish to speak, for they have Caller ID.

In the 80s, the telephone was untethered from the wall and went mobile. The phones were bulky and obnoxious and bolted to the console of our car, but they ensuredensured that we could never miss another call. We could place important calls without having the correct change and without driving around looking for a payphone or rushing back to our offices and homes.

It was just a short leap to pull the plug on the mobile phone and make it battery-operated and thus portable. The new cordless phone was not compact, and it didn’t fit in a pocket or purse; of course, we remedied that in short order.

Enter the cell phone and all its many shapes and sizes. Every few years, we decide that smaller is better, then a few months later, we change our minds and determine that large screens are better. (I wonder if that has anything to do with the Boomer’s waning eyesight?)

Have you ever wanted to go off the grid for a weekend and packed up the family for a camping trip in the woods? You commit to waving all modern technology – only kerosene lamps for light; cooking over an open fire; sleeping in a tent; and no TV, radios or cell phones. How long did you last?

Face it, we are slaves to our cell phones. We must be able to ‘reach out and touch’ everyone at will and they, in turn, can track us down no matter where we hide.

I wonder if Mr. Watson responded more quickly to Mr. Bell had he merely texted him instead of shouting.