Friday, December 24, 2010

ET: Skype Home

Not too long ago, my son asked me if we had electricity when I was young. Yes, I assured him, why was he asking? Well, he explained, I know you didn't have a cell phone or Wii, so I thought maybe you didn't have electricity.

Although I may not be a spring chicken, I am not such a miracle of nature that I waited almost 100 years until I began having children. But he had a point. It is hard to imagine what life was like before all the technology we have today. Sure, Atari and Pong were awesome in their day (and still rule!), but it is truly hard to imagine how my children would stay abreast of the latest baseball statistics or hone their hand-eye coordination without the advances of the last few decades.

We are decidedly backward in some basic ways--our largest television is 21 inches and I have to plug my Ipod into the casette deck of my car to play it while driving. However, generally I embrace gadgets, some years going through two or three Blackberries, and happy to remote control pretty much anything. And I will admit that a perfect day would be one holed up in a room with food and a TV and only communicate with the world through texting.

One of our favorite technological advances is Skype. Love Skype. The only drawback is the fact that there may be an expectation that one be groomed and presentable before clicking on the "video" icon. Our family has been known to Skype each other from different rooms in the house and, trust me, our home isn't that big. This practice caused confusion when my husband actually Skyped from China and my daughter thought daddy was calling from the next room and wasn't interested in talking. And it sure beats having to dial long series of numbers and attempt to communicate with hotel desk staff in foreign tongues. And my husband, who travels to Asia semi-frequently, has a name that is especially hard to communicate in Asian cultures.

But, I have moments when I long for the clunky electronics of my youth, especially the telephone. I distinctly remember the first time I discovered how cool it was to talk to someone on the phone. It was third grade and my friend Debbie and I exchanged phone numbers (only five digits in those days) and as soon as we got home from school, I went into our home office, closed the door, and called her. We talked for probably about an hour, recapping the day that we had experienced only minutes before. Actually, the entire time wasn't spent talking; I put the handset down on the desk for long periods of time: to go to the bathroom, get a snack, and to remind my family several times not to bother me because I was on the phone (everyone was busy doing their own things and no one cared).

This was in the day of the rotary phone, where you had to stick your finger in the hole of the number and drag it around until you were blocked by a little metal doodad. There was a lot of strength and precision required, because if you didn't rotate the dial all the way, the wrong number would register. And to do this five, eight or 11 times without error was quite a feat. You also had to actually have the phone number memorized, or neatly written down, since there was no re-dial or stored phone numbers at that time. I remember once trying to dial during a blackout and counting each hole to complete the phone number, as if I were reading Braille. 

As I became telephonically more sophisticated, I reveled in the possibilities of dialing "O" or 411 for information. The excitement of being able to talk to someone on demand was mind-boggling. My summer friend Michelle and I spent hours trying to call Donny Osmond by attemptng to outsmart the information operator. We would call 411 and sound like we were in a great hurry, explaining that Donny asked us to call him, but we had misplaced his phone number. He would be annoyed if the operator did not pass along his information. It never worked, of course. After discovering 411, when I went to visit my grandparents in another state, the first thing I did was run to the phone to see if 411 worked there too. It did. Cool. Really cool. 

In high school, my friend Sara and I took the Donny ruse a step farther. We were devotees of another bygone bit of telephonic machinery: the pay phone. We were (and still are) big baseball fans, and during Red Sox home games, we would sneak into the pay phone at school and call the hotel where the visiting team would stay. In our most official-sounding teenage voices, we would ask the hotel receptionist to put us through to players on the visiting team. Unbelievably, it worked almost every time. One time I said I was Reggie Jackson's agent and needed to be connected to him; the front desk clerk may have wondered why Jackson's agent sounded like she was 14, but didn't question it. Jackson probably would have been hip to us, except as soon as we got connected, we both dissolved into giggles and had to hang up.

Sadly, those days are long behind us. But on the balance, I have to say I prefer having the ability to immediately spring thoughts on an unsuspecting person with a text, or wait until I have time to thoughtfully respond to an email. I have a very old friend (from rotary phone days) who is sophisticated in all ways except communication technology. She communicates by calling--imagine that!--but is in a different timezone, with a different work schedule, and kids with different sleep habits. So we play phone-email tag: I email, she returns the email with a call, I return her call with an email. Between her voicemails and my emails, I suppose we piece together the details of each other's lives. Hopefully a new old-school/new-school gadget will come along soon so we can really catch up with each other.


  1. AH, the good old days. When if you were out and needed to get in touch your parents you had to hunt down a pay phone. .. . I liked the sound of the old fashioned dial turning. . .

  2. The other great thing about pay phones was finding change in them that callers had forgotten to retrieve!

    Merry Christmas, Josie!

    Take care, Karen :)

  3. When we married, my husband worked a second job at a gas station and although the phone was locked he discovered he could tap out a number on the cradle by quickly pushing the buttons, and call home. A lot of work, but it saved him a dime.

  4. Hi, Cath--Your husband is my hero! Love his resourcefulness! Take care, Karen

  5. Ooh!! A mention in Blog Day Afternoon! And what about the time we tried to call Shaun Cassidy by claiming to be his mother? Classic.

  6. Hey there! Ahhh yes, an early foreshadowing of our maternal urges.

    Kids today have no idea what they are missing. Those were the days... sigh...

    Say hi to the boys!