Full Circle: Busy Signal
And now, the death of the phone call

It was one of those days. One of those gray and gloomy days when even right goes wrong. It was a day, back when people wrote messages on little pink pieces of paper, that I got one from my boss saying, “See me.”

Nothing good ever followed a “See me” message. No praise, no parades, no parties. This day, a day like all other days, the job I wanted was given to someone else. I got so mad, I turned as pink as the paper.

When it was over, I needed a drink and I needed a phone.

So, I went to the one place I knew that had both. There weren’t many people in Dirty Frank’s that morning. Just the bartender and the regulars. I ordered a scotch and pulled out a dime.

The call changed my life. We were going to have a baby, my wife told me. She was giddy. I was ecstatic. Without thinking it through, I turned to the barroom and yelled, “Drinks are on me.” Luckily, it was 11 am and there were only two people there.

Important phone calls would mark my life. I would summon enough courage to call my future wife and ask her out on our first date. “Do you like basketball?” I asked. “Temple’s playing tonight.” She would realize, just a few hours later, that I wasn’t taking her to the Palestra, but to my house to watch the game on TV.

I would answer the phone on my way out to a Flyers’ game one night and be offered the job of my dreams.

There were so many “remember where you were” moments. And I remember I was on the phone. I watched Ruby kill Oswald. I watched the Twin Towers fall. The phone brought life and the phone brought death.

And now, the experts tell us, phone calls are dying. They’ve become a nuisance instead of a way of life. Wired magazine says the average number of mobile phone calls we make is dropping every year. And our calls are getting shorter. In 2005, they averaged three minutes. Now, they’re almost half that.

You see it most among the young. They live on their smartphones, but many can go for days without actually talking into them. We are headed, with the swiftness of speed dial, to the death of the telephone call.

Why? Consider this: We have turned out a generation that doesn’t make phone calls, because they are constantly in contact in so many other ways: texting, chatting and social-network messaging. And, Wired says, these aren’t just more options than we used to have. They are better ones.

If I want to phone you, they say, it’s a shot in the dark. I have no way of knowing whether you’re busy, and you have no idea why I’m calling. So voice calls have become high anxiety. Rude interruptions in a life full of…interruptions. Because we don’t know what the person we’re calling is doing and he doesn’t know what we want, we are constantly interrupting one another.

With newer toys like instant messaging, we know if our friends are busy without bugging them. Texting gives them a warning that they can respond to immediately or actually think about what they want to say. So by not using phones, we’re actually moving away from the demand that everyone be available all the time.

And there you are. While the world moves on, I’m doomed to be one of those old guys who actually likes talking to people. Well, some people. Sure, you can find me on Facebook and Twitter. I’m old, I’m not stupid. But, if you really want to talk to me, I suggest you phone it in. And my number is Jefferson 3-6549. You can call me up and we can talk. Any old time.

June 2011
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