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Column: The more things change

Sometimes it’s difficult to choose a topic, other times it is easy, and then there’s the days like this one when the task can be downright irritating. Take today, for instance. My friend, Geri, called and wanted to know what I was going to write about. “Don’t know,” I answered. “Haven’t decided yet.”

She didn’t reply at first, then said, “Okay!” a little too brightly before starting a tirade about discrepancies in cell phone service where she lives.

After telling her I needed to go because I had a column to write, she replied, “Oh, then, you’re not really busy,” and started a rant about inconvenience. I politely rang off, turned on my computer, which was in the middle of several necessary automatic upgrades – one of which precluded doing any work until it finished and rebooted the PC – and the topic hit me. Telephones and inconvenience. There is more than just people who we take for granted, expecting instant service and gratification with little effort on our part. My, how things have changed over the past 50 years.

Take communications, for instance. When I was a kid, depending upon where you lived, acquiring a telephone was not an instant process, not even for the well-to-do. Suffice it to say, it could take anywhere from one week to six months or more to have a party line installed, or, if lucky, a private line. Party lines were the social media of the day.

Sharing the phone with several households meant that each person’s phone number was differentiated from the others by a special ring. The ring on our four-party line in California was two shorts and a long.

Thirty years later when we moved to the farm in Williston, Vermont, it was the same. Grandma’s in Kansas was two shorts, and my brother in Phoenix was signaled by two longs. Party lines were the norm in rural areas, even here in Mayer. And, yes, everybody’s phone rang when a call came in, signaling all nosey parkers on the line that an unsuspecting neighbor had a live one so they could pick up and surreptitiously listen. None of us stayed unsuspecting for long.

Eavesdroppers weren’t the only problem, though. If one person was speaking on their phone, no one else could make a call, and you were tethered to the phone, literally. Freedom of movement depended upon the length of your phone cord. I bought the longest cord available when my children became mobile. It was the only way to survive. A long cord also enabled this mom to track down her teenaged son when he had shut himself in a closet so he could talk to his girlfriend without his baby sister interfering. My husband would yell, “Where’s Steve?” Standard reply… “Just follow the phone cord!”

Ah, yes! The electronic umbilicus that once confined us has gone by the proverbial wayside. Many cannot live without their cell phone constantly in their hand. To me, that is the greater inconvenience.

Until next time.