Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Long Distance Calling

We’re getting into that time of year now when, in the past, people made a big thing about picking up the phone to catch up with friends and family, near and far.

Not so much, anymore, since technology  allows folks, no matter where they are, to keep track of each other 365 days of the year…for better or for worse.

I’ll let you decide.

Social media reigns and almost everyone, both young and old is tied in.

No more having to pick up the phone to see what Aunt Sadie is up to with her knitting club. 

Today Aunt Sadie is updating her Facebook status from Cancun, where she’s posting pictures of herself “knitting” on the beach with a couple of guys named Manny and Jose.

Cell phones, or mobile phones, or smart phones, as they are more accurately referred to these days, are everywhere and they have slowly but surely replaced the landline phone as our primary means of communication.

Where mobile communications used to be a utility of convenience to be found mostly on the road, grocery store, beach or in the middle of a crowded movie theatre so you could tell your best friend who you saw with whom on the road, grocery store or beach, I’m sure most of you now find yourself sitting in the comfort of your living room, chatting away, texting or pursuing the latest advancements  in car deodorizers on this little techno nugget, while your poor old corded or cordless phone is sitting forlornly to the side adjusting to life as a paper weight.

However, the thing that bugs me about mobile phones, no matter how smart they are, is that the sound quality is still a bit lacking.  More often than not you feel as if you’re talking to an inhabitant of Mars.

And the thing is, over the last couple of decades, the sound quality on  landlines had just evolved to the point that no matter where in the world your call originated, the person jabbering in your ear sounded as if they were actually in the next room…which, granted, depending on with whom you were speaking, could be a little creepy.

I guess you have to be of a “certain age” to appreciate that kind of acoustic advancement….especially when it came to long distance.

Or to even know what long distance even is.

Once, there was a time when making a long distance call had some meaning to it.

It was momentous.

Families gathered to pass the phone around on a Sunday evening when rates were at their lowest. They chatted up Grandma and Grandpa, half way across the country, or you called that nice young lady you met in that hotel bar in Wichita, years before, who gave you her number and suggested you keep in touch, which you did, because you thought it was the polite thing to do.

Sunday evening was also the appointed time to speak to parents when we were away at school…and you swore you could hear the kitchen timer ticking off the minutes in the background.

Weekday calls were off the table, even in the event of death, even your own…however, requests for organ donation were allowed…if absolutely necessary…and it couldn’t hold until the evening rates came into effect.

Sure, long distance was expensive, but even so, you felt as if you were getting your money’s worth judging by the level of hissing you heard on the line. The more extraneous background noise the better, because it indicated just how far your voice was traveling through a long, long maze of wire and telephone poles in order to get to where it was going...be it across the river or across the ocean.

Shouting into the phone, just to be heard, was often required and if you were lucky to get one of those connections that echoed back to you, you imagined your voice bouncing around in the middle of a prairie, scaring off cowboys and coyotes alike. 
People even bragged on their long distance calls, back then…but not today. Today calling across the country is as common as calling down the street for a pizza.

And whether you’re calling Hoboken or Hong Kong, everyone sounds the same…not a hiss or a hum to be found.

Kids in college call their parents five times a day just to report a sneeze, no matter what part of the country they find themselves. 

Old friends are never more than a text message away.

Everyone’s connected by technology and phones, smart and dumb alike…the phones I mean.


So I guess it’s a good thing. 

But it’s odd to think that younger generations will never grasp what it was like to be disconnected.

That being friends meant more than being on a list shared with 500 other “friends”.

When communicating actually meant interacting, beyond 140 characters slipped in among countless other bits of information and witticism on Twitter.

When the words “long distance calling”, stirred excitement and anticipation.

It was a rarity…and relationships were all the more special because of it.

Okay…gotta go answer a text from that guy who sold me that pair of sneakers a few years ago. 

We said we’d keep in touch….



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