My phone has become like an extra appendage, and I don’t go anywhere without it, even around the house. I use it constantly and should probably be in some kind of twelve-step program for addiction to Scrabble and Solitaire. I respond like Pavlov’s dog to notification alerts from the local TV station or my weather apps. If I have to wait somewhere or I’m a passenger in the car, I check email, scroll through Facebook or try to up my Scrabble game.
I deposit a check through my banking app and think about how far we’ve come from handing checks to the bespectacled lady behind the window at our local bank who knew us by our first name. I google the done temperature for what I’m cooking (often from a recipe found on the phone), instead of consulting a well-worn cookbook lying on the counter. My phone has become an integral part of almost every aspect of my life and that’s coming from a somewhat tech-phobic dinosaur who probably only uses a tiny percentage of her phone’s capacity.
My parents told me that one day they discovered me chattering away on the phone (one of those big old black behemoths with a dial that made that lovely whirring sound) when I was barely three. My mother assumed I was just talking to myself until she realized I had correctly dialed the number for my grandmother and was happily conversing with her. Now three-year-old’s are downloading their own games in between google searches.
Both my parents and grandparents worked from offices in their homes, so phones rang constantly. My grandfather was a small-town doctor whose patients called at all hours of the day and night and most of the time he or my grandmother answered. There were no answering machines or annoying automated gates to prevent you from reaching the help you needed. My father sold insurance and it was years until he finally had a separate phone line installed to stop dinnertime calls from clients who just wrecked their car. His first answering machine for the office came with a tiny reel-to-reel tape recorder inside.
As a teenager, the phone was a source of recreation and romance. We would gather at slumber parties and make prank calls to unsuspecting businesses. “Do you have Sir Walter Raleigh in a can? Yes? Well, then let him out.” We’d call nerdy guys we didn’t like, enticing them with lascivious invitations to meet us somewhere and then slamming the phone down and erupting into gales of laughter. Cruel, yes, but, come on, we were fourteen. We would sit by the phone for hours hoping the guy we did like would finally call, and in those days before caller ID, it was a mystery (and usually a disappointment) to discover who was on the other end of the line. We would make furtive calls to our best friend when some soppy song came on the local radio station’s late-night broadcast. (“Oh my God, do you hear what they’re playing on “Rendezvous” right now? It just reminds me so much of last summer…”)
On a girlfriends’ trip to the Outer Banks in the early 90’s, one of us had a CELL PHONE! Wow! If we connected its tightly coiled cord to the cigarette lighter, we could actually make calls from the car in case there was an EMERGENCY, because why else would you need it? The phone came housed in its own rectangular box and we treated it with great reverence, as though we were transporting the Holy Grail.
Cell phones grew smaller and flatter. Then they flipped open and took pictures like a camera and suddenly we started doing this thing called texting. I remember a younger teaching colleague hesitantly asking me, “Do you text?” as though it was a skill reserved for those under thirty. When smart phones first came out, most of us in my generation shook our heads in amazement. Why would we need one of those? We’re too busy to be watching movies or playing games on our phones. What will they think of next?
Now here we are with phones that are like umbilical cords connecting us to the world. We text and face time, we stream our Hulu movies, and research our latest health worries on Web MD. We scan ourselves into the gym or the movie theater. We commiserate instantly with friends when there is pain and loss and celebrate their joys and accomplishments. Like it or not, our phones, despite the idiotic behavior of some of the humans using them, have completely revolutionized our culture.
Today on my writers’ Facebook group I learned about another publication looking for personal essays from older writers. I listened to several arrangements of choral pieces we’re working on for this spring’s concert. I found a cartoon that made me laugh out loud and wished some Facebook friends a Happy Birthday. I checked to see if I could substitute asparagus for green beans in the recipe I’m making for dinner. My life is infinitely bigger and better because of how easily I can access information and connect with other people, despite the amount of time I waste trying to remember words that use Q without a U.