Monday, May 02, 2005

The cult of the hear and now

"Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?"

"Where are you?"

"I'm in the doctor's office, at the gym, on the plane, feeding the dog, waiting in line, getting groceries, taking a bath, in Tahiti or Pittsburgh... and oh yes that most common answer to "where are you" - "stuck in traffic."

....Back when I was growing up - which doesn't really seem like so long ago - we rented our telephones - actually paid a monthly rental fee to the phone company. That rotary dial phone was owned by the phone company. Seems so strange now.

Most of them were black and fairly generic looking, rotary dial desk top models. Only rich people and fancy people and people who smoked cigarettes and other decadent dandies had colored phones or, most exotic of all, wall phones or colored wall phones (usually white or deep red) or phones out beside the pool.

We had one phone, and it rang or didn't - no "services" as such, no options, no plans, just a bill.

When we weren't there to answer or didn't want to answer, people knew it because the phone just kept ringing. Etiquette suggested you let it ring seven times before hanging up - I remember, seven rings specifically. Perhaps Emily Post came up with that - certainly not Erma Bombeck or Joan Rivers, who would have had something sassier to add - like taking the phone off the hook. Joan and Erma and I guess Phyllis Diller were, in those days, the sassiest women I could think of, and somehow I figured each of them might have better things to do than be very dutiful about answering the phone.

My mother was rather plagued by the phone. She couldn't stand to answer it. Even if she were within a few feet of the ringing phone, she would stammer and shout out to someone else to get it, even if they were up in the attic or out in the yard. I wonder what sort of Fruedian incident caused her to clam up at that ring.

But somehow, I've acquired more of her phone aversion, but now the contrast is even more stark. We live in a culture more addicted to phones than ever before. We are absolute fanatics for "keeping in touch," even when we have very little of any substance to actually say. We don't know the names of half our neighbors but call family and friends enough to consume hundreds and even thousands of "anytime" minutes every month. We risk having car wrecks. We turn away from people we are with to give more focused attention to people on the other end of the line - even strangers we don't know. If you've called me, you must want my time, and I must be worth your time. Indeed, how would I know I was really worth anyone's time unless they were proving their need for me by using up some of their alotted "anytime" minutes to call me any old time they feel like it?

We interrupt socializing and solace to answer that more and more invasive ring. We let the thing break into our quality time, down time, drive time, dinner time, making love time, commute time, doing the dishes time, bedtime, sleep time, shopping time. We seem to get a kick out of calling from aisle 9 to see which brand of soup somebody sort of wanted and what size juice?

A whole culture craving contact, but I overhear snippets and wonder what substance is really getting relayed. It sounds like so much blather to me, as if we could just make up for the small size of our talk by just increasing its frequency, immediacy and AMOUNT.

I got suckered into the new mobile phone fad last year. I broke my contract after three months and ran. It "wasn't me." But then part of me says it IS me, since it's 2005, and I'm alive, and we've come a long way from trying to entertain ourselves with black and white television with fewer than a dozen channels or LPs transferred to reel to reel tapes in the living room or a little transistor radio with a turn dial and a clunky nine volt battery.

Isn't our new philosophy "I wear a designer phone that looks like a little jewelry case and talk on it in public and unlikely and even obnoxious places, therefore I am"? Yes, that seems to be the meaning of life in the "hear and now."

We have phones as the antidote to some curious things that ail us - traffic, getting lost, mobility, flippancy, our expectation for faster and faster gratification (darned near immediate), and yes, the mundane ritual of shopping confusion (too many choices - too much desire to please with the exactly right thing - all of our spoiled preferences). We even get tired of our phones, since they are now fashion accessories with lots of peer pressure and technological obsolescence riding on them.

Out with the old and in your ear with the new, even if there isn't really much between your ears.

This weekend, there was a good sale on those attractive "pay as you go" over the counter phones, no plan and lots of gimmicks for minutes. I bought one and took it home, envying its styly look and what it might do for me - give me "connectivity."

But after reading the fine print and doing the math, I took it back. I'm too broke and too easily entertained for this "connectivity" culture that's "reaching out" and "keeping in touch" - keeping in touch but keeping in touch with WHAT?


At 5/04/2005 8:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But, Lawrence Talker-
You give such "good phone"
I'd say you should always have one attached to your hip!)
( So as to look so hip)

At 5/04/2005 7:06 PM, Blogger Lawrence said...

OH you C, giving such good phone! But no, constant access is SOOOO different from QUAL-IT-TEEEE....quality not quantity, and who, among Americans can even figure that out? This is a nation divoted to quantity, it seems, almost ALWAYS above quality......

Thus, the "every day" supercedes the "sacred".........................



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