By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
One of the biggest differences between me as a 15-year-old girl and my present-day 15-year-old daughter is our experience with phone calls. I loved them because a huge chunk of my interaction with friends happened on the phone.
But back then, we teens had to work hard to have private conversations. For most of the 1980s, my family had exactly one phone in the house. It was mounted to the wall between the kitchen and dining room, within earshot of the living room. The phone was a color called “harvest gold,” which meant it looked like old mustard.
It had a long squiggly cord that was forever tying itself into knots. But if I pulled hard and uncoiled a few tangles, I could stretch the phone cord far enough to silently slip into the nearby laundry room while holding the receiver. Then I’d covertly slide the pocket door closed to protect my highly confidential conversations.
Today’s teens, however, are bewildered by a ringing phone. Most of them understand more about taking a Covid test than taking a phone call. The other day my daughter’s phone rang while I was driving her somewhere and, on a whim, she answered it because it was a local number.
Caller: Hey, do you want something from Tropical Smoothie?
Her: Um…sure? (Awkward pause) So… should I text you?
Caller: Yes, text me your order.
Her: Okay (Ends the call)
Me: Who called you?
Her: I have no idea.
Me: Didn’t you just talk to them?
Her: Yes, but I don’t know who it was. They must know who I am, though. They offered to get me a smoothie.
Me: So, you’re about to text a smoothie order to a possible stranger?
Her: I don’t know, Mom! The whole phone call experience just threw me off!
Minutes later, she got a text from the mysterious caller who admitted they’d called the wrong number about the smoothie request and to please ignore it. Kate texted back with an “lol” and a “no problem,” grateful to be communicating once again via text – the primary language of the modern-day teenager.
Later that night, I told Kate that I wonder if phone calls will still exist by the time she’s my age. Perhaps by then people will be able to beam their thoughts from one brain to another, no devices necessary.
She doubted technology would get that far but predicted all calls will soon become video-based. But I personally hope she’s wrong. I’m just old enough and vain enough to prefer texting or a plain old voice call, no cameras allowed.
Any time I’m forced into Facetime or a Zoom meeting, it’s hard to focus on what’s being said because my inner critic can’t stop chattering in my ear: Oh my gosh… Is that how my face looks? Am I that pale or are the lights in here too bright? Wow, look at the bags under my eyes. Maybe I should try a different undereye concealer. And this hair! It’s so flat. And I need to have my roots touched up. Wonder if my stylist could work me in next week. Oh no… what did she just say? I wasn’t listening because that little box in the corner with my face in it is sucking up all my brain power.
Before phones also became cameras, the best part of a phone call was not having to worry about how you looked. You could put all your energy into listening and talking versus wondering why gravity is being so cruel to your face. You could wear your rattiest pajamas. You could even chat while tweezing that rogue chin hair that definitely doesn’t exist because no one saw a thing.
Advancing technology might be the way of the future, but being a disembodied voice still has its benefits.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book is available on Amazon.