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The journey of the phone from inside the house to on the body.

You can’t leave home without it.


It’s vacation season, and I’m amazed at how reachable my vacationing clients are. The 21st century electronic leash is a long one. People can be reached no matter the time, the place or the importance of the call.

Those of us over 50 know that this is a very recent phenomenon.Back in the 1960s (when some of us still had party lines), if someone left their home, they were truly out of touch. This was OK with most of us. Of course, there were exceptions.

You may remember the scene from Woody Allen’s film, “Play It Again Sam,” in which Tony Roberts plays a frantic businessman who is on the phone constantly. As he’s leaving to go to dinner, he says into the phone, “I am leaving 555-1234 now, but I’ll be at 555-4321 in 20 minutes.”  Woody Allen’s character is put off by this constant need to be in touch and says, “Hold on, there’s a phone booth we’ll be passing along the way. Let me get the number for you just in case.”

Well in 2013, most people are like the Tony Roberts character. We have a need to be in touch at all times. Sure this need is stronger among our children, but the truth is that few people today of any age travel without a cell phone. I am not going to say that it’s wrong either. Certainly, some moderation is called for – such as not taking calls in public restrooms. But all in all, being reachable by friends and family is (as Martha Stewart might say), a good thing.

I think we over 50s can provide some wisdom on this issue to our children by describing to them a time when, not only were there no cell phones, there were no answering machines. Back then, if you missed a call, you really missed it. You had no idea that anyone had called you, much less what they were calling about. This often led to bad consequences if the caller had an urgent message.

I remember one night I was out late because of evening classes, and didn’t get home until after midnight. My boss had been calling me all night to tell me that we were starting work two hours early the next day. Since I wasn’t home, and I didn’t have an answering machine, I never got the message. It was embarrassing to walk into work the next day two hours late. Soon after that, I bought one of the first answering machines on the market.

Our children cannot imagine such a scenario. Their bosses can always reach them. Oh sure they can pretend that their battery died, but that’s about as believable as, “the dog ate my homework.” Our modern world demands that we be reachable.

I have always found this electronic leash to be obnoxious. I was one of the last people I know to buy a cell phone, and for many years I used it only to make calls, and immediately turned it off afterwards. I enjoyed going into the subway – a cell-phone-free zone. Now it seems a little dangerous to be in an area with no service. We have become so used to being able to reach out and touch our friends and family that it’s a bit uncomfortable when we can’t.

A few summers ago, my wife and I were staying at Glacier National Park in Montana. There was a beautiful hotel, but no cell phone service. The over 50s quickly adapted back to pre-1980 mode when vacations were telephone-free. But the younger people could be seen hiking to a remote hill where someone said you could get one bar of service. They couldn’t help themselves. They were just answering the call of the dial tone.