Years, nay, decades ago in the previous century when I was just a lad, I remember we received a newspaper in elementary school called My Weekly Reader.
About the only thing I remember reading in that publication long, long ago was an article that predicted some day we would be able to talk on the telephone and see the person we would be talking to on a TV screen. It would even work on long-distance calls, supposedly.
That would happen soon, according to the article.
Well, I lived in a home that had a party line, so use of the phone was rare. Rarer still was a long-distance call to relatives. Long-distance was expensive, for you got charged by the minute. Consequently, long-distance calls in our house were infrequent, short and limited to emergency situations. To communicate, we would write letters and mail them. I think stamps were 3 cents apiece back in those days.
Over the years, I would from time to time read again in a newspaper about the possibility of combining television and telephoning. I pooh-poohed the idea.
I became aware a few years ago that people were using their computers to talk long-distance. Then I started hearing about something called Skype.
On Wednesday, for the first time in my six-decade-long life, I talked to someone while looking at her on a telephone.
It was a smartphone, of some sort, the property of a co-worker at the retail establishment where I work by day.
We get an afternoon coffee break of 15 minutes, and Wednesday when I went into the breakroom, one of my co-workers was talking to her telephone, which was on the table. I sat down next to her, began reading a magazine and also listened to her because I am a reporter and I am nosy. She kept talking to her phone and her phone talked back.
“What are you doing?” I whispered, as I tore an article about the new British baby prince from the magazine and handed it to her.
“I’m talking to my mom,” she said.
My co-worker is from Northern Ireland, so I asked where her mother was.
“In Belfast,” she said, moving the phone so it faced me. “Mom, this is R.D. He just gave me an article about the new prince.”
The cute little lady in the telephone picture, which was a moving picture, giggled and said in a distinctly British accent, “Hi, R.D.”
“Hi,” I said. “I’ve never talked to anyone on a phone like this before, and you’re in Belfast. I am going to brag about this when I get back to Rolla.”
Page 2 of 2 - About that time, my supervisor told me to come sit by her and say hi to her nephew. Turns out he’s a toddler in South Carolina. I talked to him but he just looked back at my face in his phone, mystified by the big-faced bearded man that was talking to him.
I felt the world shrinking just a little bit, but then I thought, “What an amazing world we live in.”
When I was in high school, we landed some men on the moon. When we did, I talked to my Grandpa about the first time he saw a car and the first time he saw an airplane fly overhead.
Think of the changes that have been wrought in just two overlapping lifetimes, Grandpa’s and mine. When they were young marrieds, Grandpa and Grandma lived in a log house with no plumbing, no electricity, no telephone or television. They later lived in a house Grandpa built. It was electrified before I came along, but I remember when it got plumbing. I remember when telephone lines were run, and they got a phone in the house.
Now, I carry a phone around in my pocket. It’s just a Tracphone, good only for quick calls to my wife, kids and parents. I finally figured out how to text. Grandpa and Grandma would have no idea what “texting” means.
And I have friends who can talk to their people in other states and countries. And see them! Moreover, they don’t have to worry about long-distance charges like my parents did when they called relatives.
My life overlaps my grandchildren’s lives. Maybe they’ll ask me about watching the moon landing on television. Maybe they’ll ask me about the first time I talked to someone on a smartphone.
I wonder what changes they will see by the time their lives are six-decades-long.
Thinking about that makes me shudder.
R.D. Hohenfeldt, a Georgia native, has lived in Rolla since way back in ’84 in the previous century. Currently, he writes regular columns for OzarksAlmanac.com, ozarksalmanac.blogspot.com and occasional columns on the registered forums of Smoker-Builder.com. On the night shift, he helps cover Rolla city and school government for The Rolla Daily News. To register a complaint with the editor about something R.D. has written, e-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. To write to R.D. directly, send an e-mail to Rhohenfeldt@therolladailynews.com.