Number Please

The other day as I was spending time behind the dirty windshield, I happened to notice something you just don’t see any more. Attached to the wall of an abandoned building was a real, honest-to-goodness payphone.

This started me thinking, something that always seems to get me into trouble, about how there is at least one generation, perhaps two, who never used a payphone. Not only that, they may not even know what one is. How about having to wait for a dial tone – or listening to a busy signal? “I have a collect call for you from…” How many people remember two-party lines? We had one for a short time.

When I was younger I used to think about all of the changes my grandfather, who was born in 1900, had lived through. The telephone, automobiles, airplanes, the landing of men on the moon, I never thought I would see that many in my lifetime, never mind more. But I have, and at a speed which is absolutely mind blowing.

We can certainly argue whether these changes have all been good or not, but that is for another day. I have to wonder if we are really any better off. Let’s take just one example, the afore-mentioned payphone. How many times did you search to find a payphone to call your parents to let them know you were going to be late? They may not have believed the reason but at least they knew you were okay. How about if you broke down and had to walk to a nearby house or hope that another driver would stop and either drive you somewhere or call someone for you? The need for these things has been eliminated. That’s good.

But on the other side of the coin, you are now never far from the reach of your job. You are expected to answer the phone at all hours of the day and night. You are never truly “off”. And with caller ID you can screen your calls as well as your calls can now be screened. When someone doesn’t take your call how do you know if they just don’t wish to speak to you? Gone are the days of “Sorry honey, I couldn’t find a payphone to let you know I was stuck on the side of the road.”

What about voicemail? Along with email, this is just another way for people to avoid responsibility and having to have an actual face-to-face conversation. How is it avoiding responsibility? If something doesn’t get done you can say “Well, I left so-and-so a voice mail (or email), you’ll have to ask them.”

Then there is the whole texting thing. Do you remember the days when you actually needed to talk to someone face to face? How many of us can recall the hours of stressing out before we called that girl we had a crush on to ask her for a date? Now, just send a text and when you do meet you can just continue texting.

While we are on the subject of cell phones, do we really need to know all about your business? People walk around with their speakerphone on, and not only to you get to hear their side of the conversation but to the other side as well. What gets me most is when they give you that look as to say “Why you listening? This is none of your business.”

Okay time to stop rambling. Someone asked me if the payphone I came across still worked. I don’t know. Does anyone even know what pocket change is these days?

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