Posts Tagged ‘phones’

Telephone-itis

April 14, 2020

I am discovering a curious disadvantage to what generally would be considered an advantaged upbringing. Or maybe the disadvantage is only the result of still working at an old enough age to have grown without phones? When I was small, in D.C. before we went overseas, there was a phone in the house – a 4 party line that my parents instructed me was never to be used except for a true crisis, like the house was on fire (and I the child was alone) so lady bug, lady bug, fly away home. I don’t remember which sort of ring meant the call was for my parents, only that our phone number was a Woodley followed by 5 numbers. I have no recollection of ever doing anything with the phone but answering it when my mother called out to me to do so because she was too far away to get to it in time. I was taught to say “hello, please wait until my mother comes” and then to be still.

By the time I was twelve, we went overseas to Vietnam, and again there was no phone for general use, only a connection to my father’s office at the Embassy, so he could be reached urgently if necessary. My parents did occasionally receive or issue an invitation by phone, but I was again constrained not to consider the instrument as available to me. Moving on to Paris when I turned 15, the rules changed only slightly.  The phone in our apartment could be used to arrange to meet a friend, or to pass along a message from my mother to my father at work, but calls were charged by the minute so brevity was essential. 

College meant dorm life, one pay phone at the end of the hall shared by 35 girls. Again brevity was mandated. So it wasn’t until after graduation and marriage that I actually had access to a phone, in my home, for every day communication. Needless to say, by that point, “hanging on the phone talking endlessly with friends” was absolutely NOT my pattern. Throughout my life and to this day I think of the phone as a basic tool for brief, essential communication, period.

I carry a cell phone, I have learned to text and in fact prefer texting to talking much of the time. Not sure why – something to do with having come to think of myself as a writer?

Anyway, that is the background against which the changes to my already-work-from-home-job have brought me up against a hard truth. No longer able to visit my clients for their many mandated assessments, having instead to complete two hour evaluations by phone, has turned what was the most enjoyable aspect of my work into the most onerous of tasks. Further, it has pushed me so far away from any other phone conversation that I find I am avoiding talking with friends whom I normally do connect with on the phone. 

Sad.

And troubling, in that I am left feeling like a failure as a friend, in these stressful and isolating times. I know some of the people with whom I was accustomed to having a reasonably long phone chat every couple of weeks need that interaction now more than before. I want to be a caring friend, not one who disappears when times get hard. Yet after a long work day spent largely on the phone, I so crave silence and freedom from the disembodied voice, that I don’t even listen to video clips embedded in the news. If I can’t read it, the information will not reach me.

Needless to say I don’t bother with podcasts. I have on a few occasions of long solo car trips listened to a talking book to keep me attentive. Otherwise I do not use that form of entertainment. At the end of my work days now, I mostly crave and seek silence, which I can fortunately have at home. Reading a novel, playing solitaire, cooking, going for a walk across our property, these are my activities.

They do not require talking, most especially not talking on a phone.

If you, reading this, are one of the people who is missing calls from me, please accept my apology for my incapacity. Know that you are in my thoughts. Email me, or text me, and I will reply. And know also, that once I can do my work as face to face visits with my clients, reducing my use of the work phone back to its pre-Covid level, I will once more enjoy chatting with you.

Letting the Wind Blow Through

February 15, 2014

A friend just mentioned he’d enjoyed my reflection on snow, bringing to mind the gorgeous silence of that recent morning, a stillness in dire contrast with the roaring, shaking, blustering, hollering wind blasting my home tonight. Gusts over sixty miles an hour have been hammering at us for five hours now; fortunately the general temperatures were warm enough today that the blasts are not unduly chilling. At least not chilling in temperature. But those who are made uncomfortable by wind can find our New Mexico spring weather intimidating. Tonight’s blasts are not unusual. A little early in the year perhaps, and lasting later into the night than normal, but very familiar nonetheless.

When I was fifteen I wrote a poem about standing up to wind, not a very good poem though the underlying thought was worth the effort. It had been triggered by standing on the edge of a precipice, at Les Baux in southern France. The town sits atop what here in the southwest we’d call a mesa, overlooking a broad plain called the Val D’Enfer. Reputedly the Dark Ages lords of Le Baux forced trader traveling through the valley to pay tribute – often exorbitant tribute – for safe passage, making the traversing of the plain a veritable descent into hell. My poetic effort attempted to recognize the strength it takes to stand up against a powerful wind, and the strength it took for travelers to risk passing near Les Baux.

I’d prefer more quiet tonight, to assure a better night’s sleep. It’s been a very long, productive but tiring day. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride… so says the adage that echoes in my mind wherever I let myself dwell on what isn’t. So instead, I’m using the blasting wind as a motivator to write this week’s post. We’ll have to see how the essay turns out! Smooth and slick, or choppy and irritating? The wind is both at once – will my essay mimic the wind, or express its essence?

“Love me, love me, say you do.
“Let me fly away with you.
“For our love is like the wind,
“And wild is the wind, the wind,
“Wild is my love for you.”

The most recent theory, from a study in Germany, of why older people take longer to respond to memory tasks, is not that ability fades with age but rather that there is so much more stored in an older person’s brain, it takes longer to sort through everything to find the relevant bit of information. I like that explanation, not just because it is more flattering. I like that explanation because it takes into account all the bits and pieces of song lyrics, like the one above, that pop out of the storage cabinet at mostly – but not always – appropriate times.

Say the word English, and I’m apt to begin quoting, “Her English is too good,” he said, “which clearly indicates that she is foreign. Whereas other people are instructed in their native language, English people aren’t.” And on and on, in Rex Harrison’s voice. I learned the entire performance of My Fair Lady when I was eight. Don’t ask me why, and don’t ask me why it’s still all there in the lumber yard storage of my brain.

That’s the term that was used, disparagingly, by the wave of neurologists who discarded “old” brain storage theories in favor of computer-link images that propose an entirely different set of rules for how our brains perform our thinking and memory functions. That new set of rules is the one that posited an eroding of capacity with age. One more reason I stand in opposition to all the supposedly “better” connectivity and computer-based emphasis of our “modern” world.

Inventors create a new toy and suddenly scientists see everything through the lens of that new technology. Wisdom of centuries is derided, practiced ways of relating to the world and to one another are treated as out-of-date. All theories, all explanations must fit the new paradigm.

Until a brave soul stands up and says “no” to forced conformity to what is new. Until a study from Germany says older brains are just as efficient as younger ones, but they have more data to process, more varied possibilities to consider, and so take longer to come up with answers. Until I suggest to a friend, who has been angered by a phone call wakening him at 3AM, that he can, in fact, turn his cell phone off when he wants to sleep.

What a novel idea to the ethos of today – to be disconnected!

In the midst of the wind storm, I am barraged with sound. Fortunately, I know the storm will pass and it will become quiet again. I really can’t conceive of living in the middle of a non-stop gale, any more than I can relate to those people who live constantly connected – mobile phone always on, always at hand, computer permanently turned on with multiple pages open, Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Skype all demanding attention.

There are reasons to be available to others. If one is living far from home and family, computer connections bridge time zones and allow relatively inexpensive contact. The nature of my present job is such that I must be reachable in emergencies. That doesn’t mean all clients can call me twenty-four hours a day, however. They call a central, toll free number for triage. Only the true emergencies are put through to me in the late, or early, hours of a day.

Connectivity, like the wind, has its season. I do hope that before the passing of all those of us who have lived when (or where) there was not a phone in every home, those born to the age of connectivity will have tired of disrupted sleep and life in a fishbowl. I do hope for an opportunity to teach the continuing values of concentration, of solitude, of silence, of windless days and of attention to one thought, one person, one experience at a time.

*****

Awakening this morning, I first register the silence. The storm has passed, the wind abated. A new day, and new environment surround me. I appreciate the renewed quiet, the ability to focus inward before joining the network of souls who will make up my work day. And I’m happy to think that, now that a research study has been published which respects older brains, perhaps some of the thoughts and beliefs dwelling in those older brains will also be given new respect.

Wouldn’t that be a novel and pleasant experience!


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