Monday, 3 February 2014

It's 1979 Calling, will you accept the Charges?

It is the first anniversary of my ongoing relationship with the love of my life.  As we continue to grow, I discover new and exciting things each day.  What was once just an affair of convenience has become an extension of my very being.

The Original Phone from Derek's home
Back in the day, my phone was connected to the wall of my home.  At 314 Mill, when the telephone rang, no one knew who was calling.  There was often a mad dash to answer with the ever famous "I'll get it!!!".   If it was for me, someone screamed my name.  If someone was mad at me, they would tell the person that I was in the bathroom.  If it was a personal call, I would whisper and talk in code.  If it was a fight, I would sit silently on my end of the phone.  If someone else needed the phone there could be blood.  When someone called and the "desired" Wells was not at home, a message would be taken.  In a perfect world this was in the form of a note. It could however be relayed verbally, but more often than not, it was just forgotten.  It was a great source of tension, with 4 teenage girls.  Does anyone know if G#$%y called?  Anyone could call and if no one was home, no one would ever know that the call had been made.  People could say they called, even if they didn't and no one would be the wiser.  Conversely, if I called someone, to see if they were home, and then hung up, they would not know that it was me.  It was a wildly mysterious time, back in the day.

I was asked by my Kate, when she was at school, to proof-read an essay for her which discussed the changes in modes of communication (the transmission of ideas or events) over the course of time and the impact of these innovations.  Time stretched from cave drawings and smoke signals, to telegrams and letter writing.  Phones evolved from switchboard operators connecting party lines bringing everyone so much closer and making the world a smaller place.  Eventually most people had a telephone in their home.  This is where my story began.  In my lifetime I saw a relatively progressive change from a home with 1 rotary dial land line in the kitchen, to a second line, to a push button phone.  When away from home it was necessary to find a phone. It was important to always have a dime in case one needed to make a call. It was cheap"mad money".  Phone booths were not just for Superman.  They were however, disgusting.

The limitations of the landline became evident to me in my early married life.  At 1365 Rock Court, in the late 1980s. it was becoming apparent that a more portable form of communication might have its place.  As we were expecting our first baby, being able to reach in the Baby Daddy became vitally important.  Derek worked on construction sites at that time and , like every other responsible, new-to-be father, he strapped on a "beeper" and waited for the beep.  It was even a high tech pager, which VIBRATED when it rang, in case the construction equipment drowned out the closely anticipated beep.  We hoped so much to use it.  The plan was that when I called Derek's office, they would then page him on site.  He would then go somewhere to find a pay phone to call into his office to get a message with a location where he might then call me.  It was so smooth and efficient.  Katelyn was 2, by the time he found us.

Guess Who is Here?
In the 90"s, things were not all that different at 26 Elm Ave except that we had a few more phones floating around, some of which were becoming very high tech and did not require a cord.  Oh the freedom to fold laundry and chat at the same time.  By the mid 90's we had 3 kids who fought to answer the phone and  to talk regardless of their speaking ability.  Calls were the way of communicating births and deaths and any other life event.  There were calls to ask whereabouts and ETAs for dinner.  There were calls to arrange playtimes and babysitters. Calls were made for rain out games.   Long distance calls were made at certain "off-times".  Day time calls were very expensive.  Long-distance calls could also be made "collect", where there was a request to distance "accept the charges".  This confused a child or 2. There were long distance calls to grandparents.  There were calls to report that we had arrived to destinations safely with the "let it ring 2x and then hang up" frugal way of getting a message across without long distance charges. There were the ever-popular calls "A student in your household named ..... was absent on ..... for periods 1,2,3,4"  There was still an element of surprise to telephone calls in the 1990's.  Unless there was state of the art equipment, we still didn't know who was calling when the telephone rang and we still had the ever popular question:  Any messages?

Early in the new millenium,we started to get a glimpse of portable communication and what it might mean for our young family. The kids had grown up with tin cans and strings.  Ok, they had grown up with Fischer Price Walkie Talkies.  They were heard to utter "are you there Dad?  Can I read you?".  Then Walkie Talkie's became more sophisticated.  High Tech Walkie Talkies showed us a glimpse of the ability to have constant contact. We had a pair of Walkie Talkies on a ski hill in Quebec.  Actually, every parent had a set and most were on the same frequency.  It became evident when a child jokingly reported "Mom, Dad, I broke my leg" and every parent started looking around at all the other terrified faces and that was the end of that. Something better was yet to come.

So, now, somewhere along the line, everything went nuts...

 It seemed to start with "car phones", which were cost-prohibitive to many people and just having an antenna on a car could imply a level of status that might not be completely accurate.  One Christmas I received a "portable phone" for my car, as they became more affordable.  It was deemed a solution to a safety concern when driving to work at night.  To be honest, I never knew how this new fangled gadget worked.  I think it involved standing on the roof of the car with the plug in the cigarette lighter.

Then phones became smaller and more portable.  They also became a symbol of a "coming of age".  Kate was given her first phone when she was about 16.  This was the beginning of the end!!   Within a very short period of time, young people were chatting as they walked down the street.  Honestly, who did they need to speak to that they couldn't wait until they got home or use the mad money quarter and find a phone booth.  Then there was this thing the kids called "texting".   I considered texting to be teenage witchcraft. How is this possible?  I had just figured out how to send an email.  I banked "on-line". I
 I was a cool mom.  I knew MSN.  I knew about  Facebook and what "creeping" meant.  I thought I was all there, but this texting thing?!

Never one to be left behind I slowly I began to learn once again. I graduated from a car phone to a "purse phone" that I never charged or brought with me.  Then it became necessary to be reachable as my kids started calling me for advice and to share my wisdom.  Ok they were calling me for rides, but I gave them advice regardless.  Gradually my generation, like immigrants learning a new language, began to blossom.  We accepted texting as a legitimate mode of communication.  We learned the abbreviations and the nuances. We learned what T9 was for as well as the dangers of autocorrect.  I learned early that " lol" was not " lots of love". I learned 2 abbreviate like the best of u, with total disregard for all speling and gramar.  My children laughed at me. They wondered who I could possibly be texting when they were home because "who else do you know?".  I learned that without an absolute question, there was little chance I would get a response to an unsolicited text and I am still learning that no reply to a question is the new "no".   There was the progression from a 9 digit phone with complicated texting rituals, to a blackberry.  I had no idea how my big fingers would manage on this tiny keyboard, but as evolution would have it, my fingers shrunk.  My phone was becoming an important part of my day to day life, as it was for many of my friends.

My children thent started to share their advice and wisdom.  They advised me to get an IPhone.  I was resistent.  Why would I need a camera?  I have a camera.  Why would I need music? I have a radio.  Why would I use an electronic calendar?  I have a datebook.  I just didn't get it.  Now I do.  I love my IPhone for communicating but also for writing. I have mastered the keyboard and my thoughts and ideas are recorded.  My life is in my phone.  When I die, my best friend's job is to destroy this phone.

Now, back to Kate's essay. We have gone from Smoke Signals to Skype.  We have gone from telegrams to texts.  Letter writing, I imagine, may become a thing of yesteryear as Bridget recently had to mail a letter and asked me "where do I get one of those stickers".  The art of writing a letter may be replaced with (hopefully) a nicely structured email.  I guess the question that begs to be answered might be " When is enough communication, actually too much?"  I was in Mexico last month and could sit on the beach and watch Downton Abbey on my phone. I didn't though.  That just seemed wrong.

I wonder how cell phone technology would have changed things for me as a young mom with little ones. If I had been texting when they were babies, would they have rolled off the couch more often than they did?  Would I have felt more relaxed and reachable when they had babysitters?  Did I really want to know their every whereabouts as teenagers? Is it a concern when kids can automatically call or text when they are in a pickle.  Would this have affected their troubleshooting skills?

Now that this technology has enveloped the world and the younger generation more and more, do we need to address cell phone
etiquette?  When is texting, although, not a safety risk, totally inappropriate?  "Okay, elbows back on the table and put away your phone". Bridget was in a confessional when her phone started to ring.  Texting at school, texting at work... If the only place that is actually a text-free zone is advertised to be a hot tub, we need to take a look at just what is too much.  Is a land line really only useful to find one's cell phone in a pinch?  Is the telephone still a more socially appropriate means of relaying information?  I would like to google an E-tiquette website. Can thank you notes be sent as a text?  Can births be announced on Facebook?  Can wedding invitations come by email?  Is there still a place for a good old fashioned condolence card in the mail.  Is Miss Manners on line somewhere, because I need to email her?

Smoke signals were probably an innovative idea in their time. Telegrams were exciting at a wedding.  There is nothing like receiving a handwritten letter in the mail. Long phone call chats with old friends are golden. Have we lost more than we have gained or is this technology keeping us connected in a newer faster-moving world?  I think when I put it all together, the important thing to me is that we communicate.  I want to hear from my children in whatever medium they choose.  I want to stay in touch with friends in the most convenient way to ensure that in our busy lives, we are able to stay in touch. I like that I can text my mother. Yes, she is that cool! My father-in-law is on Skype. Amazing.  So I will try to embrace the new normal as well. I will try to look forward to whatever comes next.  I am balking at Twitter, Instagram and Sexting, but my advice in this day and age is NVR SAY NVR.

Life has come full circle.  15 years ago I got a large car phone for Christmas.  This year we took a step back.
It Actually works!


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