I consider myself lucky to be a Gen-Xer. When it comes to technology my generation is a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n roll. We were witness to the birth of computers in the mainstream, advances in telecommunications, and the development of the Internet. We saw retail establishments move from handwritten receipts and mechanical computation to scanning and instant lookup to near obsolescence with the rapid development of online shopping.
Growing up we had two phones and three jacks in our four-bedroom house. Our community was not part of the “Bell system”, but rather in a territory maintained by GTE. It wasn’t until I was well into high school that we garnered a private line; prior to that we had a party line that we shared with one or two other people on the street. Once in a while mom would contact that phone company to move us to a different party line because the current members were quite chatty and we could never use the telephone. Secretly, my sister and I had a little game where if she wanted to use the phone and one of the other parties were on the line, we’d flick the hang up switch or I’d take the receiver and run it across the carpet to make scratchy noises. This probably upset the folks trying to have a conversation but what did I know, I rarely talked on the telephone. To this day I don’t really enjoy the exercise.
When we’re out and about in the 21st century I notice lots of people having dire conversations on their telephones. They’re walking, they’re driving, they’re watching a movie in a theatre, they’re at a funeral, they’re at a wedding, they’re in a museum, it doesn’t matter. Folks must talk to other folks immediately and at considerable length and they must do it now.
Imagine Millennials and Gen-Zers being restricted to the confines of a room with a long curly cord connected to a wall mounted telephone.
It was in the mid 1980s when we got our first cordless phone and while I tested the signal by walking to the road and back while talking to my mom at work, I didn’t find much practicality in it. Just because I could talk to my mother while walking to the road and back, I didn’t really see the need to do it. Plus, the degraded voice signal resulted in a lot of “whats” and “huhs”. It was the latter half of the 1990s when I got my first cell phone and while it was nifty, I didn’t feel it was proper to talk to anyone while browsing produce or riding my bike. It’s probably because my Mom worked as a telephone operator when she was young, but we were instilled with a certain amount of manners when it came to using the telephone (scratching the receiver on the rug to bump parties off the party line notwithstanding). This is probably why I find public telephone conversations to be a pet peeve of mine. I find the telephone (and today’s modern equivalents) to be a personal device for a personal experience. Screaming at your kid’s social worker in the middle of a Better Dairy department seems quite rude.
I know I’m starting to sound like a cranky old man when I talk about these things, but we are losing many of the societal pleasantries we once enjoyed. I don’t see us returning to a time when telephone conversations were a personal matter and that’s a bit of a shame.
On the other hand, I no longer have to listen to folks having conversations on a party line, I can easily eavesdrop while walking the neighborhood. Creepy, but available.