Old Friends, Not Being on Facebook, and the History of the Telephone

Over the last few days I connected with an old friend on Facebook; a woman I hadn’t heard from in 35 years. I knew her when she was a vibrant young woman. She was married during the 70’s to a very nice guy who helped me out of a jam once upon a time. She informed me that she’d gotten divorced in 1980, and that her ex-husband had died in 2000. My belated condolences were offered and accepted. But I felt like a schlep when she told me he was dead, for not already knowing something that life-changing had happened to her.

I wonder if my grandchildren, who are being raised in the time of Facebook, will ever experience losing track of someone, only to reconnect later on.

How much harder is it going to be for someone to simply drop out, go away for a year, sail around the world, and then reconnect? Will someone have stolen your FB account login and be masquerading as you?

Pre-Google, it could sometimes be *very hard* to find out something you needed to know. One had to go to a library and be shushed into silence while fingering through a 3×5 card file index of books and titles in the reference section, or use a phone book (which were often not very helpful). Curiosity often had to be put on hold — every question could not always be answered immediately. Sometimes you had to ask an expert — and they could be stubbornly hard to reach.

The telephone was not a storage device for songs, or one’s constant companion and game console or alarm clock or pocket atlas — it was a fairly heavy device, kept on a desk or bedside table, or hanging on the wall in one’s kitchen. If you smacked somebody with a telephone, it was heavy enough to seriously hurt them. Your phone was physically tied, with a heavy wire, to a location. If someone was already talking on the telephone when you called them, you got a busy signal (Beep…. Beep….. Beep….) which meant you had to call them back later. You couldn’t leave a message — no one had an answering machine! It wasn’t until the 80’s that “call waiting” and “call forwarding” and “voice mail” became commonly available on phones in cities. Even today, in our rural location, we still do not have call waiting and call forwarding. If we’re on the phone, people calling us will hear a busy signal.

Today, many of the younger people who call me don’t know what a busy signal IS. I am frequently told “Something was wrong with your phone when I called you. It was making a funny noise. You should complain to the phone company.”

So if these next generations are always in touch through Facebook, will they be as appreciative of other people? Will their manners be up to the task of managing human relationships that last over 40 or 50 years? Or will their wealth of human contacts (“I have 3572 friends on Facebook!”) cause them to waste (just hit “unfriend”) anyone who is slightly troublesome?

I lost track of my old friend for 35 years because we moved to different parts of the country years ago, and our phone numbers and addresses have changed many times over the years. We were never terribly close, but I would have liked to have known about her ex-husband’s death when it happened — that’s when one needs one’s friends and acquaintances to circle the wagons against the loneliness and despair and grief that death brings to the living.

It seems like, now, that kind of slow drifting apart will be impossible. I’m thinking that’s a good thing, but I have my doubts.

I’m trying to drag my older sister into Facebook, but she doesn’t check it more than once or twice a year. Everyone in our extended family is trying to include her in the conversation they are having about life as it is happening… and they can’t get through to her. She’s too busy having fun with her grandchildren, teaching medicine, and taking care of her dog.

Not being on Facebook, it’s as if she has a “busy” signal going on in her life.

Not “Beep… Beep… Beep…”, just silence.

One Response to Old Friends, Not Being on Facebook, and the History of the Telephone

  1. Sioux Hart January 8, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    Your comments about phones and a future generation not knowing what a busy signal is made me think of another thing they wouldn’t understand. That future generation (or even the current one) would have no idea why we say “dial” a number.

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