all of the selves we Have ever been
During the COVID crisis, my naturally wavy hair grew. And grew.
Unchecked by professional shears, it grew to my collar bone and then below. Befuddled by this new freedom, the dead ends looked up and flipped out. A new hair style was born, or more accurately, re-born, in the image of Patty Duke or the bewitching Samantha Stephens, symbols of 1960s glamour.
My hairstyle became a new flip for my friends to poke fun at. The other flip is my old flip phone, that relic of the 1990s. I now top the list of the scorned--a walking stereotype of the uncool, incompetent older adult---a dinosaur with big hair. Fashion dictates that if I were smart, I would have a phone to match. But neither scorn nor style weakens my resistance. I persist with the flip.
I keep my flip phone for many reasons. I grew up in a mechanical age when things were built to last. We did not discard functional items that remained useful. New technology is constantly updated and expensive. I lack the interest, stamina, and financial resources to engage in the constant pursuit of upgrades. While I still can, I don’t mind getting up off the couch to turn on the television, lock the doors, and do internet searches on my desktop computer. I still love studying a map and planning ahead when I travel. Also, I see people addicted to their phones and unable to put them down in order to connect with the very real loved ones sitting next to them. I realize that I could easily fall prey to such an addiction along with the accompanying loss of privacy and dangerous distractions. My small flip phone meets all of my needs, and it is the perfect size. So, I stick with the flip. But those aren’t the only reasons. My persistence is strongly influenced by sentiment.
Our family was late to the mobile phone game. A forever memory is the day my son and I drove to the Verizon store to purchase our first family cell phone plan. When we got into the car after our purchase, Sam used his new flip phone to make the first call to his big sister, a junior in high school. Bursting with pride and delight, Sam said, “Em! We all got cell phones!” I could hear my daughter squeal with her own delight as I sat behind the wheel, my tear-filled eyes on the road ahead of me. As a single mom on a tight budget, it was a joy to be able to give this gift to my children. For years, they had been gracious and uncomplaining about the things that others had that they did not.
During the flip phone heyday, people still talked to one another. There seemed to be a seismic shift in connectedness when the smart phone took hold of our attention. I recall a more recent day when I and my colleagues gathered around a conference room table to say farewell to a retiring co-worker. Plenty of people showed up and there was an abundance of good food, but instead of visiting, reminiscing, and offering good wishes, almost everyone in the room played on his or her smartphone. The youngest ones made fun of their parents and others who still used flip phones. This precious time together, the last day with a beloved colleague, was spent asking silly questions of Suri and mocking Suri’s ridiculous answers. As members of the work group had a good laugh, someone we knew and cared for walked quietly out of our lives.
I recall learning that Alexander Graham Bell’s first words on his newly invented telephone were: “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” I take his words as proof that the telephone was not meant to be a shield to keep us apart, but a device to bring us together. It is in my old flip phone, that I can still see my children, locked in time, my son calling his sister on that joyful day. When I pick up my phone, I am summoning the people I love, “Come here. I want to see you.” When I pass people on the street with their earphones in place, talking into the wind, their side of the conversation overheard by strangers passing by, I mourn the loss of privacy and intimacy in our relationships. Have we become too casual, perhaps careless, with our people and our things?
As I write this, I think of all of the words that have reached through a telephone receiver: good news and bad, friendships grown and relationships ended, emergencies addressed. I remember a time when not everyone had a phone in her home much less in her pocket, a time when an operator was necessary to place a long distance call. I still remember the number to my grandmother’s ancient party line: KI6-5416, and yet, today, I do not know my daughter’s new cell phone number. I rely upon my contact list to dial it for me. And I think of my dad. I was seven years old when I picked up the phone and heard the international operator say she had my father waiting on the line. I pictured a long invisible thread stretching from our home in Ohio all the way to his duty station in Pakistan. “Will you accept the call,” the operator asked. My father had been gone long enough that I could barely remember what he looked like until I heard his voice. Come here, I want to see you.
For most of my life, my fingers did the walking—through the Yellow Pages and the White. Today, they dial and text, skipping across the keypad of my old flip phone. I know that it is a matter of time before my phone breaks or otherwise fails to magically transmit the voices I cherish. And still, I drag my feet like a reluctant witness for the prosecution, weighing my options, waiting for a better deal, keeping my eyes on the alternatives to a life of solitary confinement. Daily, the mockery and the pressure build…
But will I flip?