I’m the last person in America who doesn’t own a cell phone so when your phone doesn’t ring, it’s me. I have a good reason for being a telephonicphobiac… I’m a writer and I think it was Anonymous who said, “For a writer all phone calls are obscene.” Mark Twain hated the phone and Ambrose Bierce called it “the invention of the devil.” And keep in mind, William Shakespeare produced his best stuff before there was such a thing. Had he lived after phones were invented instead of asking, “Wherefore art thou, Romeo,” he would have written the more monotonous, “Hello, is Romeo there?”
It’s not just writers who have hated phones. After President Rutherford B. Hayes got off the phone to Alexander Graham Bell in one of the first phone calls the President asked, “Who would ever want one?” Within two minutes I’ll bet old man Rutherford said to Alex, “I’ll let you go now,” which is the polite way of getting off the phone with someone you never wanted to talk to in the first place. Speaking of Bell, in his later years the inventor removed all the phones from his home because he found them so annoying.
The phone calls I hate the most are the ones from India, Pakistan and Nigeria where some telemarketer who has the worst job in the world tries to sell poor me solar panels or Medicare insurance, or tries to make me think the IRS is going to swoop down and take everything I own if I don’t Fed Ex them all my money overnight. And I’m really sorry, but to all those poor Nigerian Princes who just need me to loan them half a million for a few days, the answer is still, “NO!”
Trust me, mine is the WRONG NUMBER!
Land lines were bad enough, now we have cell phones so people can annoy you any time, anywhere. Since when did it become the nation’s favorite pastime to go to the grocery store and yell obliviously on your cell phone while clogging up the aisles? And why, in a 65,000 square foot store do you do it while standing right in front of my favorite Skinny Cow fudge bars? Go camp in front of the chunks of tofu that no one is trying to buy.
It never ceases to amaze me that people are so willing to share their most private thoughts with everyone in the store. But this isn’t the first time in our history that phoners were so willing to share their innermost personal secrets. History is repeating itself. I’m dating myself now but I can vaguely remember that as a toddler our phone number was a word followed by a few numbers. It was something like EUreka 2-1548. If you wanted to call someone you told the operator and she’d connect you. Or you could ask her to give you a wake up call if she was really nice. And most were. They were also almost all women. We even had a neighbor who was one and believe me, if you wanted to know what was going on in town she was the person to ask.
Because most Americans had “party lines” when I was young that meant there were 20 other families who were always using the phone when you wanted to. If it was an emergency you could ask them to get off the line so you could call the ambulance because you just severed your right leg and, depending on how well they liked you, they may or may not have gotten off the line.
Just like cell phones in the supermarket, you always knew while speaking on the phone that your conversation was being listened to. There were clues like multiple toilets flushing in the background or babies squalling while you were talking to your old maid aunt. Listening in on other people’s conversations served another function: entertainment.
According to a 1905 issue of The World’s Work, a popular magazine in its day, a farm wife was asked how she liked her telephone after a few months of using it and she replied, “Well, we liked it a lot at first, and do yet, only the spring work is coming on so heavy that we don’t hardly have time to listen now.”