Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It’s For You-2: The Call from the Wild

Times in my life when a cell phone would have come in handy:

1. When my tire flattened on the 401 and no one would stop to help me.

2. When I grew weary fending off an over-amorous blind date at a drive-in showing “55 Day at Peking” and wanted to be rescued - immediately!

3. The one night of my life when I was actually enjoying myself so much on a date that time dissolved and I didn’t get home till 4am and my parents were worried. (If you knew me, back then, you’d know they had nothing to worry about).

4. Whenever I forgot my shopping list at home. (This happened more often than you’d think, even before I became chronically forgetful).

5. When, as a young mother, I stood at my suburban window, staring out at the snowy night, wondering if my husband was going to make it up the Don Valley Parkway at 1 am, after a long day’s work on a late-night TV show.

The occasions that really stand out in my mind, though, are the many dinnertimes, when I stood anxiously looking out yet another kitchen window, positioned, as it was, to give a panoramic view of the entrance to a different little townhouse development, wondering whether or not to serve dinner to my hungry child or wait just a few more minutes, in case my husband really left the studio when he said he did and was about to walk in the door and we could dine together like those families on TV and in Norman Rockwell paintings. You see, if he’d have had a little iPhone (or even a Nokia) back then, he could have reported any little frequent distractions that often caused a delay in his departure, or informed me of his progress through the rush hour traffic, and my fears of his demise would have immediately been allayed. True, they might have been replaced by anger and frustration, but those are a lot healthier than morbid fantasies of car crashes and ‘what-to-wear-to-the-shiva’ concerns.

Instead, many an evening would find me banging my head on the Cuisinart, while a small, starving boy clung to my ankles, begging for nourishment.

Nowadays, with our matching iPhones, my husband and I keep pretty close tabs on each other. Believe me, it’s a matter of necessity, not trust. I still forget my shopping list at home and he is always on duty, wherever he may be, to report any items I may be forgetting to pick up. Since he cannot be trusted to stay within sight, even if I am talking to him (especially at Costco), I find a quick call, to ascertain his whereabouts, is immediately reassuring. It saves hours of searching. (I never have to worry at a mall, since he can always be found at the Mac store!)

I suppose the day will come when he will be found snoozing on a bench under a potted plant, mid-Galleria, with the other male senior spouses, but hopefully, that day is still far off….although, you never know.

All this reminiscing has a point, besides the obvious therapeutic one. How can ‘society’ demonize a device that has given me such peace of mind? What parent hasn’t heaved a sigh of relief after reaching their mindless teenage daughter, who reassures them that she is, indeed, over at her friend’s house researching the 'Causes of the French Revolution', and not running amok in the big city? (The French Revolution should be an immediate tip-off that something is fishy, since it vanished off the curriculum decades ago, to be replaced by the 'History of Rock and Roll', but that’s another story).

This reminds me, who among us, still lucky enough to have them, hasn’t rejoiced in the hourly calls of an elderly parent, wondering where the hell we are and why haven’t we called? You can roam but you can't escape!

Sure, the cell phone has gotten a few people into trouble.
Tiger Woods, most recently, springs to mind. But that was mostly about texting, which is another matter, entirely. Leaving a written trail of guilt like that has driven the wiretappers out of business!
NB People who like to text: There is a very clever saying that goes,
“He’s as dumb as a bag of hammers” or something.
You know who you are!

Just like everything else in life, there’s a good side, and a not-so-good one. Fortunately, the people in charge are ever vigilant. Back in the 15C, it didn’t take the Church long to realize that they’d better sew up the rights to the printing press or people would start thinking of other things to publish besides Guttenberg Bibles. Remember the funny stories about how, when the first automobiles hit the streets, someone would have to walk ahead of the car, waving a red flag, to warn pedestrians away? Doesn’t everyone of my generation glow in the dark because we sat too close to the TV in our childhood? (Well, maybe that one is a little too close for comfort).

I imagine that when the wheel was invented, some old bureaucrat decreed all this rolling around must stop because someone could get hurt! (This probably led to the invention of brakes, since all efforts, throughout history, to shackle the progress of man and womankind simply encourage even greater creativity to get around the rules.)

When I was a young woman, barely out of my teens, as they say, I trotted off to Europe for four months after second-year university, as we call it in Canada, (sophmore, to my U.S. readers) I toured with a gaggle of girlfriends. During that entire time, roaming all over Europe and the Middle East, yet, not one of us ever even considered placing a long distance telephone call home, even though we were desperate to know of our scholastic results and wondered if our families were still well and intact and thinking of us. More to the point, some of us fell ill at various times and even got attacked (the seriousness depends on whether or not you think rubbing and pinching on the Madrid transportation system was alarm-worthy or just another day on a “Streetcar Named Desire”, as my friend called it). A few airmail letters, picked up at local American Express offices, kept us somewhat informed. Those on the other side of the vast ocean had to be satisfied with tissue-paper ‘aerograms’, posted home from various remote locations. At the time, no one thought much of it. Weeks went by, with limited communication, and life went on. This certainly was an improvement over the days, a century before, when wagon trains lit out for ‘the west’ from someplace called St. Joe, leaving relatives for years, without any contact, unless the Pony Express happened to ride by your homestead.

Of course, all this has changed completely. Because they can, people must now be in constant communication. You’ve heard all this before, so I won’t bore you, or myself, about the pathetic nature of the socially-challenged, who have to be reminded to turn off cell phones in movies and restaurants. (Remember the days when, if you heard a buzz and saw someone jump up and quickly squeeze by everybody in his row, you knew it was a doctor getting a life-saving emergency call and proper deference was shown?) It certainly didn’t take long until the joy (and relief) of this possibility turned out to be ‘a bad thing’ (apologies to Martha Stewart….do I even have to add the ‘Stewart’ for you to know who I mean?)

There was an automatic assumption that students carrying the first cell phones were, obviously, drug dealers, who needed to keep in touch with their ‘clients’. This replaced the previous notion that pager-carrying pupils were the drug dealers, and not future doctors. More often than not, the caller on the other end of any device was a mother, bypassing the school office to inform her forgetful child that she was dropping off the bag of lunch left on the kitchen counter and to meet her out front NOW!

In the last few years of my teaching career, I enjoyed participating in a special ritual, devoted to this new invention. Students would be reminded, at the beginning of the day on the P.A., to leave their cell phones in their lockers during class time….or else! (This kind of threat had no ‘teeth,’ as they say, since there were never any ‘elses’ to breaking the rules anymore. Besides, as everyone knows, a locker is the least safe place in a school. Any drugs you hide in there will be sniffed out for sure. Your lunch, should you remember it, will be eaten by ants or mice. One of my students had her fur coat swiped. It was stolen right out of her locker. Apparently, no one noticed.
The only things that can be stored safely in school lockers are books. No one wants them.

At the beginning of each class, teachers would proceed to remind their students to make sure all such technology was ‘turned off’ (which proves my thesis that no one ever expected the kids to obey the first command from head office). It wouldn’t take too long into the lesson before some wacky musical tone would emit from a backpack and an embarrassed student would admit to possession of a weapon of personal destruction, which would then have to be confiscated for the time being, to be returned at the end of class. (No one felt confident enough to actually take the phone, permanently. Who could afford the ensuing lawsuits?)

Further along in the period, usually at a crucial ‘teachable moment’, a student would leap up in the air, as if electrocuted, and subsequently raise his hand and ask to leave the room. If a test was returned and someone didn’t like the mark she received and ran out of the room in tears, without permission, you could bet that when the classroom phone rang, two minutes later, it was the Principal calling you down, after class, for a meeting with the mother of said child, who had somhow miraculously learned of her daughter’s disappointment and needed to speak to you right away to renegotiate.

Yes, technology has a way of speeding things up, in life. It changes our concept of time.
No more life-threatening treks across the continent before getting in touch.
No more hopeless worrying over late night commutes or questionable exam results.
And no more uninterrupted romantic evenings that last until dawn.

It’s definitely now or never.

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