Friday, October 10, 2014

Could E.T. Phone Home Now?

The other day, I was using my "phone" to make a call for something or other and I received the following message:

We're sorry! Dialer has stopped.

In other words, my phone application on my pocket computer had stopped working for a bit.

It got me thinking, rather wistfully, about phones. I've always loved to talk on the phone, long before I became a busy magazine editor and HAD to talk on the phone 24/7. In those days, of course, there was no such thing as texting or carrying around a phone in your pocket -- but I still managed to keep in touch with my people most of the time. I would drag the phone from the hallway in my grandmother's house, where I was brought up, into my bedroom. It reached only so far that I could sit on my floor, head propped against the foot of my bed. For hours I'd sit, tracing the patterns on the rug with my finger, talking to my best childhood friends about crushes, music and the woes of school. I'd talk until it was time to go to sleep or someone asked me to hang up; I never had my own private line as a teenager.

My favorite aspects of phones hardly exist now, thanks to technology. The other night while I was in Edisto, I was both amused and baffled to find a landline phone inside the condo, complete with push buttons and a cord. You couldn't even walk around with the thing. I picked up the receiver eagerly, ready to hear the dial tone.


But, really, all the sounds that we once experienced with our phones -- from busy signals to dial tones to that obnoxious beeping when you left it off the hook -- have almost disappeared. I never gave it much thought, since the real point of a phone is to keep in touch, and I've done that part well enough as phones have evolved. But this week, I find myself a little nostalgic for these old phones. Maybe it's because I've craved a source of comfort during the last few crazy-busy days. Maybe that old phone in Edisto reminded me. These pocket computers that we call phones just aren't the same. I suppose it's almost like music -- we still have the songs. But we're missing the CD cases, the artwork, the lyric sheets, the stereo plugged into each kid's bedroom wall.

It's weird, the way so many forms of art have become just another computer application. But my grandmother, for one, has never given up her regular phone, nor her regular stereo that plays classical CDs each time I visit her. No matter how many times I power up Pandora on my Android, those Beethoven compact disks are still important ....and I still love picking up her old-school phone in the kitchen, saying "hello" and feeling surprised at who's on the other end of the line.

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