i loved to talk on the phoneMy teens will look back at Facebook as their defining social media. For me and other baby boomers, it’s the telephone.  

Ode to a phone

As a teenager, the phone seemed to be welded to my ear.  Our sole telephone, with a round rotary dial, hung on the dining room wall beside the kitchen. Although many families had extensions, my mother found it easier to monitor and control my life with the telephone restricted to this hub. My father refused to pay extra for hard-wired extensions.

Long gone were the days of  shared party lines. But we still had no voice mail,  call display or conference calls, though the new office phones were so tricky that our fathers needed secretaries to answer and direct the calls.

Other early adopters

With no cameras, games or other distractions, all we could do was talk. We loved to talk, not just teenaged girls but our mothers too.

This social media adoption by the mother demographic was enhanced greatly by the decline in long-distance charges. Even my depression-scarred mother in suburban Ontario could afford to call her sister in rural Manitoba on very special occasions and for super-urgent news, like when my grandmother had a stroke.

For more routine communication, they continued to write letters, the original social medium.

Evening discounts

Unless death were only minutes away, however, they would wait until after 6:00 p.m., when the rates dropped dramatically. Kind of like many cell phone plans today.

What a distance we’ve travelled. With all the innovations in telephony, especially smart phones, you might think that people would talk more on the telephone. Nope.

At work, people send e-mails, even to folks just cubicles away. My teens use their cell phones mostly to text. That is, when they’re not writing/chatting on Facebook.

The telephone might have continued as a talking instrument were it not for the tech innovations that attracted more male users, who seem to prefer games over chats. Worse still were the telemarketers who made us stop  answering calls from numbers we didn’t recognize and  the automated mazes that made us stop making calls to  many businesses.

As the telephones turns into a combination of computer, gaming console and inter-galactic tracking device,  we seem to talk less. I don’t text much. But because my daughter’s in Maine this week, and I’m too cheap to pay roaming charges,  I may just break down. But I’d prefer a phone call.  I long to hear her voice.

Even with people I don’t know that well, I  love the telephone. I won’t interview people I’m writing about via  email or twitter, though others do, because I want them to come out from behind the online wall and open up.

The downside is that when the phone does ring, I think it must be Hollywood or a hospital. Like when my aunt would call my mother out of the blue, I know there has to be a reason.

More routine writing

Once again, routine communication is written, though in a text, email or other electronic form, and not the letters and cards my mother and her sister exchanged.

People are writing more and more, even those who grew up, or were educated by people who grew up, talking on the phone.

My kids’ Facebook conversations are about as banal–yet dramatic– as my teenaged phone conversations were.

But are they, and the digital people already working, equipped for all this writing involved in our post-telephone talking era?  From my experience editing them and the results of some literacy tests, it doesn’t look good.

On the other hand, if they value writing half as much as I loved talking on the phone and my mother and her sister treasured those letters, I know there is hope.

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Telephones and the real history of social media
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