• Wed, Aug 31 2011

Chasing Thirty: Bring Back the Landline

Andrea is on a quest to check off a bucket list of items in her 29th year. You can read more about her adventures at her blog, Thirty-Things.

When you’re approaching thirty, you find that for the first time your nostalgia is meaningful. Meaningful because you remember things from a legitimately bygone era and you’ve likely seen some major trends come and go. There’s a world that you knew that not only the children of today but also the nascent adult masses—the college co-eds and the interns—will never know. Take for instance the telephone.

Lately I’ve been nostalgic about something that featured even more prominently in my teenage years than scrunchies and my shiny magenta Sketchers: the landline. I was really, really excited to get a phone in my bedroom (my parents wouldn’t go in for the much coveted second line); it was a simple beige plastic phone that I went to town on with the puffy paint (by the way, puffy paint was a close runner-up for trends I miss for this column). I spent many hours on that phone discussing the intricacies of which boy glanced meaningfully at me from behind his locker and who sat with whom at lunch.

Obviously there are still real, landline telephones all over the place but they tend to fulfill a vastly different function than they did in my youth. Among other things, they now seem deeply impersonal. I only use a landline for work calls now. My parents still have a home phone but almost all the calls that come on it these days are sales calls, therefore when it rings everyone tends to ignore it, creating a bizarre scenario in which the phone rings and rings and no on even so much glances in its direction.

When I recently heard Whoopi Goldberg talking about how she turns all of her digital devices off in the evening, that if people needed her they could call her on the phone, I thought how nice it would be to be able to do that. But people couldn’t actually call me on the telephone if I did that because my cell and home phone are one and the same.  I could try not to check the Facebook and email functions on my phone but those handy little app icons are just too tempting and I find my thumb drifting their way almost of its own accord.

A few years ago, long after the cell phone takeover but before the utter ubiquity of Smart Phones, I had a conversation about this with the British writer Penny Vincenzi during a long town car ride back from Connecticut. She was telling me the story of how one of her daughters had had a missed connection with someone she’d met at a New Year’s party whom she’d subsequently tracked down and ended up dating.  I countered with my own similar tale (which I shared with you all here) and we bemoaned the fact that this sort of dramatic romantic thing couldn’t really happen any longer and therefore it was nearly impossible to work this delicious little plot twist into works of fiction. The best your could do now is have a character’s cell phone battery die but that leaves you still with email, Facebook etc. And it’s a shame.

Because as anyone who has devoted any time to trying to decode the text messages of a would-be love interest (read: every person currently single) can tell you, making communication easier doesn’t make it better.  For a while I tried to rebel against the unholy union of texting and potential paramours until I quickly realized that if I counted out every guy who texted to ask me out instead of called, I was not going to be going on many dates.

I miss the thrill that used to come with the ring of the telephone in my youth, when for that split second it could be anyone, your best friend with a piece of choice gossip, that college coach who was recruiting you, the boy of your dreams. And even though I wonder each time I go out to meet someone and am running late, can’t find the place or don’t know where to park, how we ever worked anything out before cell phones, in some ways I long for the mystery. I miss that moment when you used to stand waiting for someone you really wanted to see, inexplicably worried that they wouldn’t show only to see them come around the corner and feel your heart fill with joy. A cell phone in every pocket ensures that people can always find each other, but I miss the chance it gave you to not be so easily found.

 

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  • DebMoore

    I agree!

  • Wendy

    You can still be unavailable. Turn off your phone for a weekend. Or turn it on silent and don’t answer it. It’s not the end of the world to go off the grid for a while. You will survive, I promise.