Long Distance

I saw my son in Japan last night. We Skyped. Finding a time when we’re both awake and not working is a bit of a challenge, but we have managed to do this a few times.

Every now and then, the picture freezes, or breaks up, or the sound disappears, but it works. I don’t know how pixels and bits fly through the air, bounce off a satellite and zoom down into my laptop almost instantaneously, but they do. Or something like that.

Occasionally I have to slap myself so I’ll stop reminding my sons how amazing this is. I wonder what technology they will be gushing about in thirty years. What will their kids get tired of hearing about? “We didn’t have that when I was your age. We had to use a phone if we wanted to text somebody…”

The telephone was patented in 1876. My grandparents didn’t remember that, but technology spread more slowly a hundred years ago. Though not rare, telephones were still amazing to them. I think my grandmother’s first telephone number was 27. Many small communities weren’t yet hooked up to long distance. In the early days, people had to make an appointment to make a long distance call. It wasn’t something they did every day.

Even when they got hooked up, “Long Distance” was reserved for holidays or blessed events. Many people had just one phone. When I was a child, we always called our relatives in Seattle on Christmas and Easter. Each of us would get a turn to talk to each person at the other end. Long Distance was very expensive, so the conversations were brief, and the phone was handed off to the next person. “Your grandma’s on the phone — Long Distance!”

Usually I didn’t have a lot to say, so that was fine with me. “What are you doing?” my uncles very often asked. My response was clever the first time I used it, “I’m talking on the telephone.”

People under the age of sixteen won’t believe it, but everyone didn’t used to carry a phone around all the time.

We knew from movies and television that spies had them (usually disguised to look like something ordinary — a pen or a shoe, for example), but ordinary people had to look for a payphone if they wanted to make a call while out.

Cell phones were a novelty. When they still looked like giant walkie-talkies, it was fun to call a friend up and say, “Hey, guess where I am?! I’m in my car — on I-75! That’s right, I’m talking on the phone AND driving at the same time! Cool, huh?”

Now I have an iPhone. I text my son (the one still living at home) and say, “Guess what I’m doing?! — reading a book — on my phone!” His reply: lol can u stop @ store? o/o beer.

Maybe in thirty years or so, I’ll be able to transport myself directly into the homes of my not-yet-born grandchildren.

I’ll say, “Guess where I am?! Right here — in your living room!”

They will shake their heads and say, “Why did we ever buy that thing?”


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