Something reminded me of that article the other day, and it occurred to me that this was not a phenomenon my children would ever know. In fact, I’m not sure they even know what a dial tone is. Their awareness of phones and phone calls doesn’t include a world without smart phones, much less without cell phones. We have a landline phone, and it rings from time to time, but we generally let it go to voice mail, because it’s almost always a telemarketer, or some asshole from India trying to recruit us to partner with him in hacking our own computers so he can mine our passwords and otherwise defraud us.
(Why, you may ask, do we then bother with a landline? The answer is we had it for emergencies when the kids were a bit smaller—before they could all read to manipulate a smart phone, they could have picked up the landline and dialed 9-1-1 in the event there was an emergency, and the grownup who was responsible for them was the victim. We keep it now because none of our children have cell phones—yet—and they do occasionally stay home alone, so they have a way to call for help, should they need it.)
Also a foreign concept: long distance. Back at Christmas, my brother in law called me (on my cell phone, of course). He and his girlfriend were coming for a visit in a couple of weeks, and he wanted to talk logistics and plans. Sometimes I think my husband married me (with my lifelong reputation for being an incessant chatterbox) to fill the blathering void left in his life by the absence of my brother in law. If I can talk the hind leg off a cat, my brother in law and I together would turn it into a biped (unfortunately, one with two front paws, but never mind about that). So, we chatted of this and that, swapped some stories, made some plans. After about a half an hour, my 80s-raised brain presented me with this thought:
“Jesus, this is going to cost him a fortune.”
Duh. He called my cell from his. It wasn’t costing him a dime. That idea would never have crossed the mind of any of my kids in a similar circumstance, because they know nothing of the concept of local calls versus long distance calls. Calls are calls to them.
And remember calling someone and getting a “busy signal”? This will never happen to kids of this generation. Every call goes right to a voice mail, or you get a cheerful, musical voice letting you know that you’ve somehow made a mistake and should promptly fuck off. I bet she’s the cousin of that bitch who’s constantly telling me I can enter my phone number if I’ve forgotten my Club Card, and urging me to scan my first item at the self-checkout (I despise self-checkout, a concept I know was designed by a man—but more on that another time).
Although we do have a landline, our phones are all cordless. We have them in three or four rooms, but we could (if we actually used them) roam from room to room, chatting all the while. When I was growing up there was a red wall phone in the kitchen. As with all wall phones in all kitchens, it had a 6’ cord on it (so you could…walk into the dining room to talk, because…a change of scenery is nice? I don’t know). Naturally that cord was pulled out all to hell and gone, because we did go into the dining room for a change of scenery, or to the far end of the kitchen for a drink of water. Never will I say the words every teenager dreads, “Get back in the kitchen or you’re going to pull that phone right off the wall!” Ugggghhh, OKAY MOM.
Related—I’ll never have to yell at them for trying to jump rope with the phone cord, which could also pull the phone right off the wall, for god’s sake.
On the plus side, they’re unlikely to suffer the pain of the twisted phone cord. The phone cord that has been knotted and kinked up to the point that the only remedy for it is to stand on a desk or table and hold the cord high above your head with the receiver dangling down, letting the weight of the receiver pull the snarls out of it. Of course, that method was only partially successful, because the cord was so stretched out in the first place that it would crimp back up in a weird way that only remotely resembled its original tidy corkscrew pattern.
I once heard an NPR story on how phone cords got so strangely tangled. The expert (from…AT&T, back when AT&T made actual telephones? From the North American Telephone Cord Association? I have no idea) said that the way phone cords got all twisted was that, “People twist ‘em.” He went on to explain that the user would take the receiver out of the cradle and bring it to their ear, then during the call, they’d switch ears, and return the receiver to the cradle from there. That was one full revolution of the cord. Multiply that by a couple of hundred phone calls, and you’re well on your way to a highly twisted phone cord. Probably information I’m passing along too late to be of any use to you with your cordless handsets and your smart phones, but for what it’s worth, that’s how it happens.
They’re never going to pine for cute phones, either. When I was a kid, I desperately wanted a Kermit the Frog phone from the AT&T Phone Center store. Kermit was sitting in a chair with his feet up and his legs crossed, and one of his feet and an outstretched hand made the cradle for the receiver. I didn’t get it. I got a princess phone instead, which was fine, but not exactly what I wanted (yes, First World problems, but I’m still a tad bitter about it, when you consider that about ten years later my mother decided on a whim that she wanted a Mickey Mouse phone and went out and bought it for herself. So a character phone was reasonable if she wanted it but not if I did? Humph). Later I took matters into my own hands, and bought both a phone shaped like a rain cloud, with raindrops for buttons, and a rainbow for a handle (which was cute, but impossible to wedge between your shoulder and your ear when you were on a call because it really was just a half circle, not “receiver shaped”), and one of those clear plastic Trimline phones with multicolored components and wires (which, to be totally honest, I wish I still had).
Maybe I wish I still had both
Phones today are so characterless and dull. They’re all cordless of course, but they’re also just black plastic with boring LED displays. About the only “feature” they have that differentiates them from one another is whether the display is orange, green, or blue. It’s almost impossible to distinguish between your wireless phone handset and your television remote control. In fact, in the past I’ve tried to answer the TV remote. (Although to be fair, I’ve also tried to use my TV remote as a calculator, so I clearly have my issues with electronics in general, and with TV remotes in particular.)
While there are a lot of positives my kids will have by living in the smart phone era, there’s one really wonderful telephone related experience they will miss out on completely—slamming the phone down on someone who’s been a complete asshole during a call. I don’t care what you say, pushing the “end” button on a smart phone or cordless handset just doesn’t give you the same surge of satisfaction as taking that receiver and crashing it as hard as you can into the cradle. It also doesn’t translate the same way to the jackhole on the other end, who just hears the call go silent on a smart phone. There’s no reverberating bang! as the call ends, and the dial tone starts droning tunelessly in their ear. It was a well deserved punishment for someone who committed the crime of being a total dick. Smart phones have rendered this impossible. Such a sad loss.