Today I Was Naked

At my age this would not be a pretty sight. Maybe at any age. But I’m not talking about clothing, I’m talking about leaving the house without my cellphone. Now if you are a younger person, you can easily relate, your cellphone is your lifeline. Of course, if you are a younger person it is more likely that you have never left your cellphone. It would be like leaving the house with no clothes on.

I remember hard plastic-like, black phones, with a rotary dial, connected by a hard wire via a party-line (cheaper), and no area code yet. The concept of a wireless phone meant that it would be even larger, and not fit in your pocket.

So for about sixty years of my life, I left my phone in the house when I left. Because it was attached to the wall. Later on we had area codes, and special rates for “long distance”. Somehow we were all convinced that it made sense for higher rates because something was used up the further that you called, like gasoline in your car. The phone companies allowed you to be ignorant.

Leaving the house without a phone wasn’t barbaric. They had these things called “phone booths” or public toilets, they seemed functional for both purposes. Superman was always able to find one in an emergency, and so could you!

Nearly every public parking had a phone booth, and most could give you a five minute call for a dime (remember, something was used up). Lots of young people wore buttons that they pinned to their jackets or purse straps. It was very wise to put a dime in the back of several buttons. You could always make an emergency call. Some people still wore “penny loafer” shoes, but replaced the penny with dimes. Later on it was a quarter for three minutes, so the buttons had to get bigger, and the shoes were out.

In addition for being the model for future airplane bathrooms, the phone booth did provide a measure of security. Not only did it deter thugs from a snatch and grab, but it muted the conversation that you might have, unless there was a lip reader nearby. There is a federal law that talks about “the expectation of privacy” and government agents cannot listen in or record any conversation between individuals if there is “an expectation of privacy” without a warrant signed by a judge. That stops the police from tapping your business or your home. It also stops them at the phone booth.

But time rolls forward, now we all have cellphones, and we feel naked if we leave it at home. And by the way, there is a limited “expectation of privacy” with cellphones. No warrant needed to listen in or record anything said through the public airwaves, just purchase a scanner.

Ever wonder why those public phones that don’t live in a phonebooth have those little “wings” on either side? It does stop some extra noise, but it is supposed to give you that “expectation or privacy”. Plus the new design allowed the phones to be lower, and no booth meant that it was wheelchair accessible.

There is one more thing that is different about nearly everyone having a cellphone, and that is “connectivity”.

I want you to envision your close circle of friends, it could be anywhere from two to a dozen. How many of you have that one close friend that is slightly off the rails, wears aluminum foil hats in the house, listens to radio talk shows about aliens, and hangs out near Area 51 on vacation. We might know someone like that, but rarely are they close friends, unless you do the same things.

Now, expand to relatives and acquaintances. Expand it even further to one hundred people. With one hundred people you might find one of them that fits this description. That’s one percent of your acquaintances that are slightly wacko. You can handle that, your particular group will not be taken off the rails by one percent of the people you know. You are safe.

However, now most people are connected by cellphones, many of them “smart phones” allowing for deeper connectivity. If the population of the US is 328 million folks then one percent is 3,280,000 people that can be connected with the same mindset. If they were all told to move to Denver, and taken over the city, there might be anywhere from 32,000 to 328,000 people that actually show up.

Yes, back then, with our Bakelite phone tied to the wall in the house, we might have felt isolated compared to today. But there is a positive side to isolation.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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