“You answered the phone.” I can still hear my Grandma Mae, calling me at my first post-college job. I couldn’t tell if she was impressed that I was important enough to have a phone to answer or dismayed that whatever my job, I had to answer the phone. (The latter is correct.)
She called often, inviting me to dinner at their home in Flushing, Queens. I’d take a long subway ride from Manhattan and my grandfather would meet me at the station for the short drive to their house. We’d set a date and an approximate time. She’d caution me not to “look too pretty” on the subway. Miraculously, my grandfather always arrived on time, despite our lack of communication after the initial conversation.
The phone call apparently is dying. According to a survey cited by A.A. Gill in the April 2015 Vanity Fair, “Goodbye to Hello,” speaking into a phone is the “sixth thing” people use phones for.
As a teenager, I lived on the phone. I’d tie up the house line (the only line) for hours after school. No matter that I’d spent the entire day with my friends. From about 4 to 6, there was so much more to discuss, not least of which was what we planned to wear the next day. After dinner and piano practicing, the calls might resume, to compare homework answers, gossip and to confirm clothing plans. One couldn’t be too careful.
With cell phones, teen life changed a lot. When we moved to another town during my daughter’s high school years, I hardly got to know other parents. In a cell phone culture, kids make their own plans; there are no calling house lines, asking a parent if you could speak to your friend. Drop-offs and pick- ups at friends’ houses were curbside, no need to meet the adults.
Though I have a “smart” phone; I’m not that smart about using it. I don’t text and I don’t use too many apps. I use it to make calls (!) check email, and take photos occasionally. What’s difficult about the reliance on these apparatus is we assume that if someone is texting or emailing, it means they are present enough to engage in a conversation. We had an experience this weekend with a lawyer and a realtor handling a transaction. Both seemed to have time to send emails; yet neither answered phone calls that would have saved time and prevented several emails crossing resulting in ambiguities and frustration. I guess I’m just not a good multi-tasker.
Customer service for the most part has been relegated to computers as we select what department we need from a menu of choices. Talking to a human is nearly impossible and often not much more helpful. The lack of human interaction pervades all industries.
I hopped over to London last week to see some cousins and friends. I stayed with an American friend, whose husband is British. Her three children have dual passports, making it easier to enter each country when flying back and forth. We chatted about how when she and children enter the US, they go through the faster lines at customs than her husband. She said she loves that when they come to the US, the custom official stamping their passports says “Welcome Home.” I shared that I have Global Entry, a status that allows me to scan my passport at a kiosk and walk through without waiting in any lines, no need to talk with anyone. Technology may make life more efficient but certainly not more social.