“I was watching “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last week and he and his sidekick, Guillermo, paid a visit to the New Yorker magazine in an effort to get a cartoon published in the magazine. Neither was successful, but Jimmy came up with this cartoon, which serves as the inspiration for this week’s provocative question:
The cartoon shows a picture of a young man sitting in a jail cell with headphones on. He’s busy using his smartphone when the prison guard apparently advises the guy in the cell that he’s entitled to a phone call. The guy then asks the guard, “What’s a phone call?”
So here’s the question:
I grew up before mobile phones — or at least before mobile phones became popular and common. Garry and I were among the earliest users of cell phones. Garry was always out in the field and he really needed a phone. Even back then … the early 1990s … there weren’t many functioning payphones. Most of the booths had broken or entirely missing phones.
The first phone I bought for Garry was the size of a brick and weighed at least as much and possibly more. On the other hand, that phone could connect with anyone anywhere. It was very much like the big “field phones” the telephone technicians used.
One day, the Blackberry came out and for years that was our phone. Garry loved his Blackberry. It had good sound and he could actually hear when he used it … and he could read (and send) email. I had a phone too, which was good because I was always looking for a job and I needed to find a quiet corner to set up interviews. Sometimes the phone WAS the interview.
Texting hadn’t arrived yet and phones were not miniature computers. They were small, portable telephones that also had email and calendar. Which was what I needed.
And the granddaddy of them all:
But how do I feel about taking on the phone? There was a time when the phone rang and I knew it was a friend. Or someone who wanted to talk to a parent, a brother, a husband, even your child. But now? The phone is nothing but a noisy, device large used to try to scam you out of money or steal your personal information. It’s rarely fun.
I have three or four people — close family and dear friends — to whom I enjoy talking. Otherwise, I’d rather use email. The joy of email for me is its wonderful silence. My cell is always dining and ringing and jingling and binging and bonging. It never stops updating so as soon as you think you know how it works, they decide it needs to be fixed. When it is actually broken and needs to be fixed? That’s a wholly different story and usually costs you money.
With the exception of good friends and family, I don’t want to use the phone. I have to beat myself up to actually make a phone call, even if it’s important. Email is great because I can ignore it until I feel like doing something about it. I never learned to text, probably because that would mean I’d have to leave my phone on and people would actually CALL me. I don’t want them to call me. I’m very happy to not have something ringing all the time.
The thing I don’t understand about mobile phones is that they never shut up. They are always making some kind of noise. It’s like being on an electronic leash: you are never out of touch. It’s why when people ask if I have a smartphone, I say “no.” I do have one. I just don’t use it any more than I have to … and I do NOT give out the phone number.
My favorite calls are from Indians or Pakistanis who say their names are “Bob” and they are calling from Texas. And they know a Nigerian prince. Moreover, if you give them all your personal information, you can inherit a fortune and never have to worry about money again.
My all-time favorite call was a woman who called to ask for money to be collected for women who’ve had breast cancer. The money, she averred, would be given directly to people who had cancer and needed help. I told her she could call me back when my check was ready.
Modern telephone technology has taken all the fun out of making phone calls just as “modern airplanes” have taken all the romance out of travel. From all of this, I have concluded that progress is good but not every change is going to improve your life. The only thing I hope for is that people will get tired of living on their phones and start to consider the possibilities of conversations.
And sometimes, enjoy the amazing possibilities of quiet and even silence.