And you know what? I was content with that situation. Sure, I missed some calls it would have been nice to get. And I had to deal with the fact the phone didn’t belong to me. It belonged to the family. My parents might answer when a girl was calling me. Or they might object if I tied up the line for an hour speaking with that girl. But the world did not end even though communication was not instantaneous.
AT&T was forced to break up its monopoly of the phone business in 1984. At the time I thought it a bad move. It had done a good job of developing a nationwide communication system and had moved into the digital age. I had personal loyalty also. My father had spent most of his professional life working at Bell Telephone Laboratories, the monopoly’s research and development arm where amazing inventions such as the transistor had occurred. And I had spent several semesters there on a work study program while in college, as well as being employed at the Labs for seven years at a later period of my life.
I’m still not completely sure the breakup was a good move. But it can’t be denied that it unleashed amazing innovations in the communications field.
One of the earliest was the answering machine. It seemed like a miracle. Now a caller could be assured that the individual being contacted would know of the call and even learn what it was about. Our first voice mail. An additional benefit was someone at home could listen in on the caller’s message and determine if it was what we now call spam. Yes, even in those early days there were those ready to sell or scam, although nothing like what we have evolved to.
I remember many years ago being at my auto mechanic’s shop and was struck dumb by the fact he pulled from his pocked a rather large phone to answer an incoming call. And it didn’t have a long wire attached connecting it to anything. I couldn’t wait to return home and tell my wife. Getting one of those phones was my first submission to what has become our norm.
I feel control of my life has been yielded to electrons all too ready to order me about. A friend said, with some incredulity, that he left his home and discovered his phone was still back at his house. So he returned to get it before proceeding to his intended destination. I could sympathize. I’ve done the same thing.
I had changed from someone who could leave home without fearing missed communications to one terrified that I’d be out of contact. Somehow, that doesn’t seem like a step in the right direction.
Of course, there are advantages. I do feel comfort when the phone is near in case help is needed. Especially when on the road or out for exercise.
But do we have to let our equipment control us? Have we become a country who shook the dictatorship of a king to wind up with the dictatorship of the electron?
We’ve all seen restaurant couples sitting across from each other and not seeing each other. Because eyes are focused on the small rectangular devices in their hands. No sparkling conversation going on between those pairs. Unless it’s via texts.
Walk around a college campus. Notice those sharing the path with you. Most likely well over 50% are holding and talking into their phones.
If an individual actually is not using a phone and it rings, that incoming call must be checked immediately. No matter whether the person was engaged in conversation with others or driving.
So we’ve gone from being comfortable about missing calls to fear of it. And to feed that fear technology has developed ways to ensure us no future call will ever be unheeded.
When my phone rings with an incoming call or dings about an incoming message, the phone is not alone. My iPad also indicates the same information, just in case I’ve left the phone in the other room. And also my computer so, if I’m in the middle of some task, I can halt it and deal with the incoming request, probably interrupting the work on the computer that now will be delayed. And on top of that, I feel a vibration on my wrist which comes from my watch which is more than happy to measure my steps, record my distance traveled, map an exercise route, tell me to move if I’ve sat too long and, oh yes, inform me of the arriving call or message. And it even tells the hour!
After all, how many times do I have to be notified? And how bad would it really be if I didn’t learn about it until later?