ELDER MUSIC: On Charlie Christian's Shoulders
The War on Elders (and Everybody Else) – Part 1 of ?

The New Telephone Culture

One of the most dramatic cultural changes in the lifetimes of those who read this blog is the fading of the telephone from our lives – at least for its original intended use.

I had been thinking about how little I use it these days when, yesterday, in The New York Times, Pamela Paul reported how the phone has fallen into disuse as a voice instrument:

“It’s at the point where when the phone does ring — and it’s not my mom, dad, husband or baby sitter,” she writes, “my first thought is: 'What’s happened?' 'What’s wrong?' My second thought is: 'Isn’t it weird to just call like that? Out of the blue? With no emailed warning?'”

She had me hooked right there because I've had precisely that thought on the rare occasion my phone rings.

It used to be so much simpler. When I lived here in Portland, Oregon, as a kid, our telephone number was FIllmore 2039 – just six digits. When we moved to Marin County in 1956, there were not even dial phones. To speak with anyone – in town or across the country - I picked up the receiver, an operator asked for the number I wanted and she connected us.

How quaint. When I was talking at teenage length with a girlfriend in those days, I remember my mother hounding me to get off the telephone so she could use it. Phones and teenagers – then and for many decades following – were a big bone of contention in families.

Today, each family member has his and her own cell phone but we hardly speak with one another.

Skipping over the many years when all professional business was conducted by telephone and I spent many long hours keeping up with friends by phone, nowadays there are only half a dozen people I call without first arranging an appointment to do so via email.

No one told me this is the new telephone etiquette; it just kind of fell into place over the past few years. In Ms. Paul's Times story, Miss Manners says we have finally caught up with her point of view:

“'Thank you for noticing something that millions of people have failed to notice since the invention of the telephone until just now,' Judith Martin, a k a Miss Manners, said by way of opening our phone conversation.

“'I’ve been hammering away at this for decades. The telephone has a very rude propensity to interrupt people.'”

I see her point and I seem to recall sometimes being irritated with the ringing telephone but my long-distance friendships thrived on lengthy phone conversations. There is also a lot to be said for near daily phone calls with closest friends even when we live in the same cities. I kind of miss that.

Even so, cell phones – mine, anyway – are so irritating that I'm almost grateful few people call. The damned clock is always 11 minutes behind real time, voice mail notification is often a day late and the phone is rarely in the room where I am when it rings.

(Actually, I blame that last item on women's clothing designers. If you can find a pair of pants in the color, style and fabric you want that also fits, there are no pockets.)

Most people use their phones now almost exclusively for texting, email, web surfing and games. Not me.

I don't have anything to say to anyone in a text message that I would bother using that teeny, slow keyboard. I don't need to check email so frequently that it can't wait until I get to my laptop. I don't want to read websites on a miniature screen and in general, computer games don't interest me.

Maybe it's a case of getting old and not keeping up. So be it.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: Music


Watching the young people in my family, I see that they never actually call and talk to people. They work everything out by texting. When they are with someone in real life, they are total chatterboxes, so I know they enjoy talking with friends. Their ideas of how to do it are just entirely different.

I have a cell phone for one reason, well really 2 reasons: for emergencies & for picking someone up at the airport! Otherwise, I prefer my landline like my 95 year old mom since I call her every morning at 8am. Cell phones are for kids & for a few rude young adults who seem addicted. Dee

This sounds so familiar. We gave up landlines about five years ago. We haven't missed them--especially those blasted telemarketers. We keep the cell phones in case of emergencies but we don't play games on them or surf the internet on them or text. That last drives some of the younger family members crazy. We tell them that if they want to contact us either e-mail us or call. Mom would much rather hear their voices than decipher their texts. We can only say 'amen' to your comments on women's clothing. A deciding factor for us is whether the slacks have pockets--and so many don't.

I no longer have a landline either, but I use MagicJack, which works with a regular phone via my computer. It's really cheap - $20 a month, including long distance.

I have a cell, another cheap deal, just for emergencies. I simply HATE talking on the cell; sometimes the words are garbled, and I have to decipher what is being said. I often kid others that my phone doesn't talk back, take pictures OR serve any purpose except for emergencies.

Don't even get me started on the adults/kids addicted to cells -- I consider it rude to see people out in public so absorbed in their cell phone they don't even notice where they are. A couple years ago, a teen texting on his cell rear-ended my car - totaled the car, but at least I had no injuries.

I still have long conversations by phone with my sister who lives 70 miles away, but I used to get annoyed by surprise calls from others. I love caller I.D. now, which allows me to know if I will answer or not. And the answering machine, a big favorite too!

Oops, sorry about the typo: that MagicJack is $20 a YEAR, not a month.

When I was little, I'd pick up the phone and say, "Hello, Kay?" Either the operator or my mother would tell me to hang up. I just knew my Mom talked to my aunt Kay that way(on the phone) and I want to also!
When I worked in our library, I'd have a long line of patrons waiting to check out or something. They would be patiently wait and the phone would ring. I was required to pick up. And the person on line would magically leap to the front of the line to have my full attention. Drove me nuts. Very unfair.
I started to text because two of our grandkids have that ability now. Sigh. Such a royal pain! The texting, I mean! Sometimes I'd just give up and call them. Much more fun.

The first phone I remember had an operator and four parties on the line. The party-line continued in use a long time and when we first bought this farm (1977) we had a party-line out here and finally gave up and paid the money for a single party when our teens and the other users (an old lady who would leave her phone off the hook so it'd be available for her use anytime and a man who got angry at anybody who was on the phone the instant he wanted it-- party-lines had a lot of political problems attached to them).

I have written quite a few manuscripts that never got published with most back in the 80s and 90s. Recently I began editing one of them to see if it was salvageable for today's publishers and my current thinking and cell phones were the biggest hassle of updating. Nobody had them back then and communicating was totally different. NOW you have to remind me that even the cell phone isn't the only thing that needs updating... Eek!

According to other articles, even email is going the way of the dinosaur. Not here. Texting for me isn't. Phoning is reduced to two...my eldest daughter and my friend Bobbie. Bobbie and I have a once a week phone conversation that lasts about an hour. If I didn't go along with her phone program, I knew I'd lose a friendship. Long ago, we decided that we liked hearing each others voice. Perhaps it made the friendship more real. Cell? I confess, I now use it only in emergencies.

Interesting post. I make appointments for phone calls at work--the calls are essentially meetings that get scheduled. But it never occurred to me to make appointments to call friends--except for rare occasions when someone has been really hard to reach.

I have some friends with whom I email to set up times to get together and rarely call; other friends and I regularly have long chatty phone conversations.

I use my iPhone for lots of purposes--take photos when I'm out for a walk and see something interesting, use the alarm to wake me up most mornings, record chorus rehearsals, take notes, go online to find restaurants or directions when I'm traveling, quickly check email w/o having to boot up my computer, etc. And occasionally I use it as a phone!

Reminds me of the time I got a wrong number. But when a child answered the phone, apparently before anyone else heard it ring, just for fun I started talking to the kid.

I said hello, he(?) responded with perfectly intoned gibberish, which I recognized right away as toddler-speak. I asked for his name, and the kid suddenly started listening without saying anything, until I asked if Mom was around, which started a conversation that went on for probably five minutes.

Ultimately, I tried to get the child to go get Mom or Dad, which was partially successful, since I heard him go away and chatter at somebody. But then he came back to chatter at me some more.

This happened a few more times after I repeatedly convinced him to try to get Mom or Dad to come to the phone. He knew what I was asking for, and I could hear him heroically trying to get their attention, which was never forthcoming.

Finally I gave up and started offering a few animal sounds, woof, meow, oink, moo, all the Farmer in the Dell animals. This was entertaining for both of us for awhile, but inevitably I finally had to say goodbye and hung up.

For me this was a magical little opportunity to chat again with my favorite type of person: a toddler.

For him, it was probably his first telephone conversation. And for both of us it turned out to be a pleasant, if ultimately secret, mid-day phone call.

My husband and I gave up our landlines a few years back. I don't mind the cell phones, actually but we have the most simple of models and plans and I rarely text.

My mother got a cell phone when Dad got sick two years ago. I insisted she have one so that she had a way to call us and we her in case of emergency. She had to wait a lot at the hospital and I think she actually appreciates having it now for those occasions, although at first it was hard for her to get used to.

I generally don't like talking on the phone, cell or land-line. But I do enjoy my phone calls to my 85 year old friend in Connecticut. I live in Arizona and I call Julie whenever there is a UCONN women's basketball game on. We talk basketball and get up to date on what's new.

Sometimes she calls me during a game. And sometimes we talk twice, or even three times during the game.

When it's not basketball season, I sometimes think I'm interrupting her routine when I call. But when it's about basketball....no problem!

I share that opinion. I will never text or open one, and I don't want to surf the web on something so tiny.

I AM glad my phone rang this morning; it was Fed Ex, telling me that my new laptop was just minutes away!!

When I was 5 years old, my dad worked for the phone company. Our phone number was 1111J. Later, we had a two-party line for a time. I rarely used the phone when I was young.

Now I keep a corded phone on hand in case of power outages. For talking to family/friends, I use a cordless phone with a headset.

My cell phone is usually turned off, but of course I carry it when I'm out (I'm on AT&Ts "GoPhone" plan; no contract). Heaven forbid I should go out phone-less!

Once in a while, I text my sister, but texting is way too slow on the teeny-tiny keyboard on my "old-fashioned," 5-year-old cell phone.

The phone, I decided long ago, is not my boss. My answering machine, like a secretary, takes the calls, and I call back when it's convenient.

I wonder what's next in communication devices. Transfer of thought waves maybe? Yikes!

Not a texter...maybe some day. I often wonder how dangerous it is, as I have heard anecdotes, not being able to hear the voice of the person when sending the message. There are certainly misunderstandings.

Interesting post. You didn't mention the fact that the ubiquitous cell phone may be dangerous, that holding it close to the head may cause brain cancer. (My ex used to work in this industry in France and warned our kids, who got gadgets so they do not hold the phones to the head.) I swear by my landline. Friends still use the phone for talking, but my kids send mostly messages through the computer.

I have always believed that I was alone in thinking of a ringing phone as an intrusion. I was pleased to read yesterday's article about the drop in phone usage. I love e-mail best...I can communicate when I am ready to and friends and family can do the same. Gladys

There's something about a voice, the intonations, the concreteness - I love phone calls from my children and the others in my family. We email, but for the personal touch, the phone is important, even for brief calls. When someone dies, sorry, I don't want to learn by email or text.

Texting has its uses, particularly when verbal conversation isn't appropriate, or, like email, it can be responded to later.

I've never felt that a phone call was rude - just some callers, like telemarketers.

I love reading your article and all the comments too. I feel a kinship with you (and some of the others) about not caring about the texting thing.

In my younger days I wanted to have every new gizmo as soon as it reached the market. It wasn't only that I wanted to be perceived as "hip" (which I did)...but also because I LOVED all the new things. Every new advance in camcorders, cameras and computers would literally make my heart sing. Of course, back in the 80's there was that construction worker's giant "brick" phone. I had one of those...and many many others since. (I have a box full of old cell phones, I could start a cell phone museum).

Now, I really love having my exceptional MacBook Pro and I SHOULD get an iPhone to sync to it. Instead, I like my old verizon phone from 5 years ago that suits me just fine. I'll probably wind up with a "smart phone" eventually, but I'm not looking forward to it particularly. It will mean having to wade through a whole new set of instructions.

I did learn something that I didn't know recently. Young people don't respond to voice messages! They DO NOT call you back!! lol...I thought THAT was the rudest thing ever, but someone explained to me that young people find voice messages to be the utmost in "old fashioned"...and in order to get young people to call you back you have to TEXT them. Fact. (!)

I have a friend who sews bridal outfits who says bridesmaids are requesting phone pockets in their formal gowns. (She has not had that request from a bride yet.) I buy my skirts and pants at thrift stores and only get those with pockets. Another friend who sews is putting pockets into a pocket-less skirt I adore and can't get rid of.

My grandmother could remember when phones were invented and began to be installed in businesses. The phone company (and male homeowners) refused to install phones in the homes as they were afraid it would distract the females of the house and keep the housework from getting done!

I remember when our phone number was 170. And my grandfather never said "goodbye" on the phone, he just hung up when he was through talking.

We could call the operator and find out where the fire was, or have them get the doctor for us.I really miss that. It was warm and cozy and friendly.

Sent my first text message yesterday our of sheer frustration when someone would not return my phone calls! Hope it's my last text.

Oh what changes time has wrought! And we got to witness it!

This brings back a memory of my first phone call. One day when I was somewhere between three and four years old, I decided I wanted to talk to my father. Our telephone was one of those black Bakelite things they had then--large, clumsy and heavy, at least for a little kid. My mother showed me how to work the dial with my stubby fingers.

I could hear the ringing at the other end, and a male voice answered. "I want to talk to my daddy," I said, and he answered "Okay, who's your daddy?" "My daddy!" "Kid, I can't put your daddy on the phone if I don't know who he is!"

In frustration I started crying, put down the phone and ran out of the room. Later my parents explained to me that other kids have daddies, too, and all that. But it was a long time before I asked to use the telephone again.

The memory remains so vivid, I sometimes wonder if it didn't begin a pattern in my life, because I've never been really comfortable using the phone. I seem to need to see the person I'm talking with--make eye contact, and so on.

Today, I ride on city buses, my primitive cell phone that my daughter insisted I get in my pocket, while all around me people yak and text on their iphones, blackberries, etc.

Recently I installed Skype on my laptop. Much better.

Huh. I have a landline and use it frequently to converse with my sister and close friends. It is such an intimate medium.
My husband is on the phone a lot in his consulting business. He also does conference calling every now an then. He has his own landline.
We both have cell phones that we use sometimes, depending on circumstances. But neither of us likes texting.
The only thing that really offends me is people talking loudly on their cell phones in public.

I'm not a big phone person--never have been. When I was very young, we still had a party line. Quaint, indeed!Even as a teenager, I didn't spend as many hours on the phone as many of my contemporaries did. Now I use my cellphone to call my husband from the grocery store or if I'm gong to be late getting home, and that's about it. Occasionally, if I'm waiting for someone or something, I'll watch the news on CNN. I can't imagine doing much communicating on that tiny screen and with those tiny keys. Yeah, it's probably a generational thing.

I have a different kind of land line phone that I will never give up. It is actually a computer shaped like a phone. It's a CapTel (captioned telephone) phone and when I have difficulty understanding some people I can read what they say. I understand that there is a captioned cell phone on the market now, but I don't need it as I seldom go out and even when I do I am rarely alone.

I am showing my cranky age because I hate texting. My granddaughters are constantly texting when I would like to talk to them. They are addicted to their cell phones.

I do hate telemarketing calls because my phone is only accessible from two rooms. I have to hurry to answer and am irritated when it is someone calling to have me take a survey or to sell me something. (Yes, I am on the "Do Not Call' list, but they find me anyhow.)

I still use the phone for conversation. I tried Skype, but my daughter's computer time is usually when I am asleep. We talk weekly for at least an hour. My son's only contact with me is by phone, also. We do not talk as often as my daughter and I do.

Bringing up a related issue, I loathe menus. It is really a royal pain when the captioning is behind the electronic voice and I read that I am to press 3 by the time the voice is telling me to press 5 or some number down the list.

Jeez Ronni, you got a hot topic here!

I already posted but after reading everything, I realized a couple of things remained for me to share.

First, I hope I live long enough for the generations of youngsters of the future to shake their heads in dismay at the silliness of texting: "Mom, did you ACTUALLY use those tiny tiny keyboards to tap out messages? Why? That sounds so nuts!"

Second, a while back I started taking my phone into the bathroom with me so I would know if anyone called. Then I realized there was actually a better reason to do it: in case I "have fallen and can't get up!" God forbid.

Finally, as for the landline, I learned that landline phones continue to work even in a blackout... just when you might really need one!

I am still in the territory sales world. While driving between account calls, we are expected to use nearly every minute on the phone to close deals and/or complete action items. We use a blue tooth hands free, nowadays, for safety and compliance to state law. Modern sales forces are expected to be maximum productive--never down, except when sleeping.

Like you Ronnie, we had a manually operated phone system in the small town where I was born and bred. Turn the handle and ask for a number (or even just ask for a person or shop).
As for a mobile (cell to you) phone, I don’t have one. This may shock people but there you are. I’ve found that if you have one people ring you. I plan to be the second last person in the country to get one.

As a PS to the above, while in office or at a wireless hot spot the action goes from phone to mainly email, maybe about 90/10% email : phone. John

I have an iPhone and use it for texting with my children and my sister. I have Skype on my computer and use it to talk with my grandson so we can see each other with the web cams. I use it as my calendar, alarm, play games, and browse the internet. I resisted the idea of a cell phone but after the plans went to so many minutes for a fixed price I used it a lot more.
I would give up the landline but DirectTV requires it for the DVR.

I swear, if the cellphone had been invented first, and then the landline, everybody would throw away their cellphone and sing the praises of how great the new landline is -- no more dropped calls; so simple to use; bigger and better buttons make it easier to dial; a better connection so you can actually hear what the person is saying!

Don't have a cell phone. Don't want a cell phone.
Life still goes on...

Yes, we had one...biggest waste of money and aggravating to boot.

People who wish to reach me have managed to figure out how to dial my telephone number and either speak to me or leave a message.

I have two businesses and am active in my community. Between my telephone and email messages, everything is still rolling along.

After my husband's heart attack two years ago, one of the CCU secretaries said that she figured we would "have to get a cell phone now." Guess she figured wrong.

I love SuzyR's comment, "...The phone, I decided long ago, is not my boss. My answering machine, like a secretary, takes the calls, and I call back when it's convenient...".

wow Ronni, what a topic. I loved reading all the opinions. I love my quiet house. Very few phone calls and I don't call anyone. The last time I did call someone, I thought was a friend - I was rudely asked what do you want...well I want nothing - so if you want me - call me otherwise who cares.

The call I miss most is My Mother - she was the first call in the am and the last one in the pm - she died in 1997. She said prior to her death, put a phone in the coffin and you cn call me. Well - it cost a lot for the phone service and she never answered. Neither did anyone else. Thank you Safelink for my free cell phone - it has taken me three years to learn to use it and I like the way you can save the numbers in the little phonebook.
What a great idea - I will always take it to the bathroom...one never knows...wow what a topic!!!!

Lived in a city as a child and we had a dial phone. My grandmother who lived on a farm had a wall phone with a hand crank. We turned the crank to create a combination of long and short rings in a code that varied depending on who was being called -- party line. Grandma had a code that rang at her house if someone was calling her i.e. two longs and a short.

When my husband was living we had to keep a land line because he had to call into the hospital regularly for a pacemaker check they could conduct over the phone using special equipment they gave him. I've kept the land line since his death because reportedly emergency 911 calls are received more directly, so faster than those from a cell phone. Caller's location also is automatically displayed with land line emergency calls which has not been the case with cell phones in every community. Not sure if these differences still exist.

Being disturbed by land line callers hasn't been a problem for me ever since answering machines. I can, and sometimes do, just let all calls go to the machine, then if I want to talk I can pick up or not. Occasionally, with a few people we pre-arrange a land line call or Skype time, often by texting first, but generally not by email 'cause I only erratically check email anymore. Some of my correspondents and I find texting convenient when either of us is away from our home, we have a few minutes and may need or want to make contact.

Emails for me generally don't have as much immediacy now that their novelty has long since worn off, but do serve as info conveyors to keep in touch with one anothers lives.

I do try to keep a cell and/or portable phone within reach at all times for emergency use which offers some increased safety and reassures my adult children.

"Maybe it's a case of getting old and not keeping up. So be it."

there's no maybe about it.

Kids weren't allowed to talk on the telephone back when our ring was a long and two shorts, nor did I ever learn to use a telephone any more than absolutely necessary. Many years in my adult life, I had no phone.
I still don't talk on the phone any more than required, even though we have a landline and we have cell phones. I jump each time the darned phone rings. Unfortunately, my husband is a real phone gabber. Otherwise I could unplug!
Email, forever!

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