Remember when every bit of really good news came by phone? Now, seems like only really bad news that comes that way ("Are you sitting down...?"
Now, if my land line rings (why do we still have two plus my cell??), nine times out of ten it's a telemarketer despite our having registered DO NOT CALL. Or that bizarre call that begins, "This is your credit card company. There is no problem with your account, but it is urgent that you contact us..." Or, if you move in those circles and it's three in the morning, maybe it's Charlie Sheen.
I wonder what would my father, who had me and all my sisters on speed dial, have made of the seismic shift away from using the telephone.
Do you remember when...
- You waited for a boy to call and kept picking up the phone, just to be sure it was working?
- You came home and counted the message blinking lights to see how may messages were waiting?
- It took so many calls and call-backs to arrange a get-together of more than two people?
ROBERTA: I think the next generation doesn't even consider a land line, right?
JULIA: My kids don't. I recently realized they didn't know how to answer a phone that wasn't theirs! We had to have a lesson: "Hello, this is -----'s phone, may I ask who's calling?"
ROBERTA: When I had my private psychology practice, I had to get a second line put in at home for emergency calls, right next to my bed. I dreaded that phone ringing! and then another line at the office with an answering machine. Now professional types just carry their cell phones with them everywhere. The good news (and the bad too) is that they're immediately reachable.
Back in the days of one phone per household, there were intense negotiations of how long anyone could be on the phone in my family--and when. I remember being intensely envious of my friends whose parents got them a "children's line." The line was listed that way in the phone book--you don't see that much now!
And one more thing--when you call someone's cell phone, it's almost certain you'll reach them. So no unexpected chats with the spouse or the kids. I wonder how many mothers and mothers-in-law never ever talk with their kids' significant others these days?
RHYS: We have two land lines, one for that other obsolete piece of equipment, the FAX. About twice a year we receive a fax and yet it sits on my credenza, gathering dust. Remember when the fax was new and vital to business?
I always use my land line unless I'm out and about, because the quality is better and I don't lose calls in the middle. When I phone my daughters inevitably I'll lose them a couple of times because they forgot to charge their phone, or in the case of my daughter who owns a swim center, she dropped her Blackberry in the pool.
But I can remember that bitter sweet waiting by the phone for a certain boy to call. Please, please call. Please, please, please... and then my father wanting to make a call just at the wrong moment. Agony.
I've never noticed that only bad news comes by phone. In fact it's always been the other way around. When I used to submit manuscripts before I had an agent, the editor always telephoned within a couple of weeks to accept. I've had all my notifications of award nominations via the phone. What a sweet thing to hear, "This is the Edgar/Agatha/Anthony committee and I'm happy to tell you...."
What I have noticed is that people have to stay in touch every second these days. Plane lands. Cell phones are whipped out. I've just landed. I suppose it's good. It certainly slowed down those old private eyes when they had to find a phone booth.
DEB: Oh, my gosh, I remember when telephone exchanges had NAMES! (Hey, at least I don't go back as far as the days of operators . . .)
HALLIE: Me, too! And of course I remember the number: Crestview 57146.
DEB: Because my parents worked from home, when I was in my teens they got me a "children's line" so my calls wouldn't interrupt their business calls. Oh, what bliss! Hours of uninterrupted gossip--in my room!!! And they didn't know when I was talking to boys. . . good thing, too, as I suspect those conversations wouldn't have passed muster.
But times have changed. Growing up, answering the family phone, you learned to chat politely to your parents' friends, your neighbors, your extended family. Now, although we still have a land line in our house, no one I actually WANT to talk to calls on it, and I'd be just as happy to do away with it altogether. My friends call my phone, my husband's call his.
Nor do I answer land or mobile if the call is unidentified. It's come to feel just as intrusive as a stranger ringing your doorbell.
And yet we chat on Facebook and blogs with people we may never meet, and feel comfortable with it. Weird psychology, isn't it? I'm not sure if the person-connected-to-phone is a good thing, but I don't think there's any going back.
JAN: An odd development, at least in my life is that now there are certain people I only call Cell-to-cell, partly because I recorded their phone number there, and partly because as Roberta pointed out, it's direct access. And there are people I call more now that I have their cell number than I would on a landline - like my nieces and certain friends.
Growing up, I had my own landline telephone, which I wheedled out of my indulgent father. It was a big mistake because I gave that number to the school department instead of the real home number and took it off the hook anytime I wanted to cut school. In today's world, the school department would call a parent's cell number. So I think that's progress.
JULIA: You were lucky! We had call waiting so my parents could receive calls despite two teenaged girls in the house. If anyone beeped through, my sister or I had to say goodbye! How about you, Hank? What did you have as a teen?
HANK: UPtown 3-2768. And my pink princess phone. I LOVED it. (Even though it was cooler to have an AXminster exchange.) PRAYED for boys to call. Checked, constantly, that maybe the phone was broken, or something, when they didn't.
Now when our landline rings--you need a landline, BTW, because cell phones DO NOT connect directly to 911--I leap into the air, startled. Then I argue with my husband about who has to answer it. Bottom line, I refuse to answer it.
Remember A Thousand Clowns, when Jason Robards answers the phone: "Is it someone with good news or money? NO?" and then hangs up? That's me. I HATE THE PHONE.
JULIA: I'm with you. I've come to dislike phoning. I am the queen of text messages - I can get them no matter what the background noise, and if it's important information, I don't have to remember it in my increasingly-porous head: it's right there! Written down!
I hope we don't have any emergencies, because we got rid of our landline a few years back. Out in the country, our local carrier covered four towns, and anything outside that area - including Portland, where our kids went to school and Gorham, where my husband works - was long distance. Plus, whenever we lost power, which happens several times each winter, for up to 4 days at time, the electrically-powered phone was dead. We started getting the kids their own cell phones: Victoria before her sophomore year, Spencer at the start of high school - Virginia's on track to have one by eighth grade! Once you have FOUR cell phones in a house, the landline starts to seem a little like overkill.
ROSEMARY: Most people who call me know - I don't answer the phone. I'm just not one of those "Hi Alice...Hi Ursula" gals from Bye Bye Birdie. Never have been. My business card doesn't have a phone number on it and if anyone actually pries my cell phone number out of me there's only a slight chance I'll pick up if it rings(the bag's so big, who can find the phone?)I just deleted 7 messages from from husband. He's the only one I pick up for and even he doesn't always get through. OTOH I love to be able to read email messages on my phone.
I did just cancel my fax line because I got tired of all those offers to Go To Orlando for $300!! which were the only faxes I got. This week, of course, I had to send a fax and still haven't done it...
Phone memories...love Judy Holliday in Bells are Ringing - about the answering service gal who butts into the lives of and eventually falls in love with one of her clients. (BTW Paula Holliday's last name is an homage to Judy Holliday.) And my personal memory...being in a hut in Tanzania in the middle of the night and having Mitch Kaplan call about an event in Coral Gables. Surreal.
HALLIE: Wrapping it up with more phone memories, here are my favorites:
Sexiest: Mary and George Bailey sharing the (old fashioned) telephone receiver in It's a Wonderful Life.
Funniest: Bob Newhart's one-sided calls (loved the one where Sir Walter Raleigh is calling from the colonies; Newhart greets him, "Hey, Wal-baby!" and tells him "That boatload of turkeys you sent us last November? (pause) They're still here, Wal. They're wallking all over. See that's not a holiday here..."
Scariest: Tippie Hedren trapped in the phone booth in Hitchcock's The Birds.
And do you remember these lyrics from "The Telephone Hour" in Bye Bye Birdie, the teens are all on their phones:
Have you heard about Hugo and Kim?Share your phone memories with us! We'll hang on...
Did they really get pinned?
Did she kiss him and cry?
Did he pin the pin on?
Or was he too shy?
Well, I heard they got pinned
Yeah! Yeah! I was hopin' they would!
Oho! Now they're livin' at last,
Goin' steady for good!