Instead of reporting to you on big antique shows, fashion shows, world events, or personal things that matter to me, sometimes even very personal (like losing a friend this summer, or my late son’s anniversary date last week), now and then I get to share a pet peeve with you, and it’s always rewarding when I discover that you share my irritation about the same thing, and I’m not alone in my complaint. (There’s comfort in numbers).
Communication used to be complicated and slow. You had to mail a letter or even a work project and wait for a response, sometimes even a long time. There was just no faster way to get things sent from Point A to Point B. Then the fax was invented which changed that. Within minutes, you could send a drawing, a letter, a work project to anywhere in the world, a huge change in getting work done faster, with no delays. And the Fax led to Email which revolutionized all our lives. Sometimes even too much so. You write a letter or send a photo or message, hit the Send button, and your message shoots around the world (sometimes before you even have time to think about it, or prematurely). Texts were an extension of that, and now seem to be the way everyone, or many/most people communicate, especially young people. And to some extent, it’s abused. I hear constantly about romances starting by text, and then people getting ‘dumped’ by text, which seems a very inelegant way to handle important personal communications and life decisions. My kids in their 20’s rarely seem to talk to anyone on the phone anymore, they text, which seems sadly impersonal to me. Email and Texting are convenient as can be, but easily abused, and on personal issues, they seem to create a false sense of intimacy which doesn’t really exist, and then they find there is a wide gap between reality and the person they were communicating with too intimately, with no real foundation for it.
And the arrival of the cell phone changed all our lives. John, my husband for 20 years, LOVED new technology. We had the first voice operated cell phone in his car, which called all sorts of people you didn’t want to talk to if you coughed or sneezed, and responded to every noise in the car. And he had the first ‘portable phone”, which was about as heavy as a bowling ball, was housed in a small suitcase, and which he placed on the table in restaurants, and loved showing off with it. That wasn’t very long ago, maybe 20 years or less. And then the machinery began shrinking to something smaller and smaller, at first hard to get into a purse, and by now so tiny you can tuck it into any bag or pocket. The things a cell phone can do today are astonishing, with endless ‘apps’. There is an app for just about anything, from random sex, to games, and things I never dreamed off, like a list of every restaurant in the area if you tell your phone you’re hungry. There are no more unanswered questions on any subject, what actress was in what movie when, who won the Oscar in 1949, history, recipes, addresses, information. Google has changed the world. And in many cases, cell phones have become as much toys as a convenience, or a business tool. And no question, originally, they made life incredibly convenient. You could sit in traffic and tell people you were late. For me, most importantly with 9 children, I could be found and contacted instantly if one of my children needed me, or had a problem. Before cell phones, I worried about it constantly, about my kids being able to reach me if they had an emergency and I was out. Or if I needed to reach them. Beepers were an interim stage, which warned you that someone needed to reach you, and you could rush to a phone to find out what the problem was, and sometimes it took a while to find a phone so you could call the person who beeped you. With cell phones, you were instantly reachable by the entire world, which has some real advantages, and admittedly some downsides. It also has its dangers, with people using cell phones and texting while driving. Even though illegal, many people still do it, and it causes terrible accidents. My children lost a close friend two years ago, texting while she drove on the highway. And I see people do it all the time, as I’m sure you do too, even worse with texting, since they are looking at their phones, not at the road.
There is no denying the fantastic convenience of having a cell phone, and being accessible to those you want to reach you. Even though it makes us too accessible, and there is nowhere to hide anymore if you want 5 minutes of peace and quiet. (I won’t look at email by phone, and only look at it at home on my computer. You have to draw the line somewhere, and that’s where I draw it, or I’d be answering emails all day when I’m out, trying to get things done, or with friends or kids). But we seem to have forgotten an important benefit that cell phones offer us, and were designed for in the beginning: So others can reach us and talk to us, and we can reach them, wherever we are, at home or out. Somewhere on the path of progress, people stopped answering their cell phones, and began using it as a screening process. At first, only a few did it. They flatly refused to answer their phones, and let it go to voice mail every time, which seemed annoying and snotty to me. Too fancy to answer their phones? Too important? Please. But now everyone does it!!!! EVERYONE, or just about. Whoever you call, whether it’s business people, close friends, a company, a shoe store, or even my kids, all you get is their message. NO ONE actually answers their phone now, whether it rings or is on vibrate. I WANT to answer my phone, and actually have a nearly antique cell phone that I love, because it has flashing lights to tell me it’s ringing if I’m in a place where I might not hear it (a restaurant, a baseball game, wherever, someplace noisy). It lights up like a disco ball when it’s ringing or has a message, and I love that. I love that model (a very, very old Nokia), and have replaced it several times with unused models of the same phone which I’ve found on EBay. I write on a 1946 typewriter, which is older than I am, and use a cell phone that is a dozen years old. It has no fancy ‘apps’, and I’m fine with that. It’s a cell phone, not a rocket science lab or a research library. All I want is to talk on it, that’s plenty for me. But NO ONE answers their cell phone anymore, EVERYONE lets it go to Voice Mail and checks their messages later. One of the great advantages of cell phones, for me, was being able to reach people quickly, especially in an emergency. It seems like people have forgotten that. All you get now is their message, and pray they pick it up soon. I don’t know a single person who answers their cell phone anymore when it rings, or vibrates. And you’re at the mercy of when they feel like picking up their messages (or worse, their message line is full, because they haven’t bothered to pick up their messages in days or weeks, and you can’t leave them a message at all). With caller ID, they can see who’s calling, so if they don’t want to talk to you, they can avoid you forever. But even if they want to talk to you, or like you, NO ONE picks up anymore. Not even my kids!!! An important feature of cell phones at all has been rendered obsolete. You can’t reach a person quickly on their cell phone now, because they just don’t answer. Okay, they may be driving. But other than that, there is just no reason not to answer their phones, except if they’re having sex or sleeping—-and even asleep, you may need to reach them quickly.
As an example, I was traveling yesterday, and staying in a hotel 3,000 miles from home. I got an alarming call from someone who thought my home was about to be burglarized, on a Saturday night at about 7pm. I couldn’t even call 911 from where I was, or I would have gotten the local police where I was, not the police at home where the house is. I called my kids in that city to have them call the police immediately. It went to Voicemail for each one. I called my assistants. Voice Mail, it was Saturday night, and there was no reason why they should expect to hear from me, and they have their own lives on weekends, and I normally don’t intrude on them out of working hours. I started to panic. Who to call who’d actually pick up their phone and call the cops for me, to protect my home??. I couldn’t find the number for my alarm company, great, now what? I called friends. Voice Mail. I literally called 20 people, and NOT A SINGLE ONE picked up. Not one. Meanwhile, the burglars could have been in my home by then, happily emptying it. It was an insane and frustrating feeling. I was able to reach NOT ONE single person. Nobody. I left frantic messages everywhere, and finally sat down at my computer, sending desperate emails. A friend called me 5 minutes after I sent the emails. And from then on, I started getting calls for the next two hours, after writing in the subject line: “I need HELP. CALL ME IMMEDIATELY”—–which if you do email, you know is also a classic form of Spam now, and a scam, where people hack into others’ computers and email and send out emails claiming to be that person, saying they are in a desperate situation, and trying to scam money from them. So half the people I wrote to by email, probably thought it was that, just another hacker sending scam emails. But no one picked up the damn phone for Heaven’s sake. They only responded to email. Who do I know who is so important that they have to screen their calls and can’t answer the phone when it rings? And yes, I know some famous people. But I wasn’t calling Sidney Poitier, Barbara Walters, or Ben Affleck to tell them my house was being burglarized, I was calling my children, friends and employees. Everyone did eventually call in the next two hours, although the problem was solved by then. And thank goodness, one friend called me minutes after she got my email, called the police and got them there. And fortunately, it was something of a false alarm of innocent people actually looking for someone else, and had managed to look suspicious, although they weren’t burglars. But what if I REALLY needed help immediately? If I’m injured or sick, or need help of some kind, or to reach someone for a serious reason? No One will pick up their phones and answer. They all think they are much too important now and screen their calls. I don’t do that, if someone calls me, I answer. Why wouldn’t I? Why call back later? In fact, much to my friends’ annoyance, I go in the other direction. I never turn off my phone, even in a movie—what if one of my kids has an accident or a huge problem? I want to know immediately. My worst sin of that kind was at my sister in law’s funeral a year ago, in that case I forgot to turn off my phone, since I never do, and of course it rang right in a moment of silence during the church service, and the entire church could hear it. I dove into my purse, grabbed the phone and turned it off, and everyone was mad at me. But I figure if someone calls me, they need me, and probably have a good reason to call me. I can’t tell you how irritating it is to call person after person, and have no one answer. I spend my life leaving messages for people who think they are too busy and important to answer their phones, instead of just talking to the people I need to speak to. I no longer know a single person who will answer their phone when it rings. I find that incredibly annoying!!!
If someone calls me, I answer my phone, unless I’m driving. And it would be soooooo nice if people would answer their phones when I call them. Even my dry cleaner doesn’t answer their phone. No one does. Maybe people need to feel a little less lofty and important, and answer their phones!!! Not doing so defeats one of the important purposes of a cell phone: being able to reach people immediately if you need them, possibly in an emergency. If we don’t abuse that privilege, then maybe people would start answering their phones again. It certainly would be refreshing!!! I’m not too fancy to answer my phone, and it would be great if others didn’t think that they are!!!