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By Amy Phillips Penn

“Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives.
It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream,
to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria
back to the office on the cell phone.”
— Steven Spielberg


There’s a cartoon on social media that has made its rounds: Two cellphones are walking through a museum. They stare at a photo of a phone that rang out from the fifties on.

“Look, our ancestors had tails,” one cellphone tells the other, pointing out the tangled phone cords of yesteryear.

I love a good phone call.

It’s great to text, email, and all the lightning speedy stuff that a cellphone provides.

Ahh, technology. Now you know it, now your smartphone knows more than you. The phone has its very own journey, and I do mourn its formative years.

Look at the leap.

When I grew up in East Hampton, there was no need to dial. You picked up the phone and a real live operator answered and asked you what number you wanted. Only four digits needed apply. The East Hampton code was Ea4 followed by four digits. Ea4 gave way to 324, then added the area code 516 which often needed a 1 before it, then, the real test came. 516, the local area code morphed into 631.

Oh Manhattan, who still has a 212 in their treasure box?

There was one, and only one operator in Manhattan whose voice was heard when you dialed the then free 411 or placed an operator call.

Split screen phone calls made way for behind the scene gossip or a song and dance routine. Think When Harry Met Sally or Bye Bye Birdie.

When I was 16, a turquoise princess phone made a grand entrance into my bedroom, only to be disconnected when my math grades sank. Needless to say, this form of parental torture happened only once.

If you were waiting for a special but not necessarily promised phone call (usually from the opposite sex), you had to plan your day carefully.

If no one was home to answer the phone, you might miss out on that dream call, where your heart pounded out in telltale gravitas so great that you were certain that the caller could hear it without a stethoscope.

Sitting around all day, waiting for the phone to ring (or maybe not– perhaps he wasn’t going to call, didn’t know you were alive, or even worse…had a girlfriend) is no way to treat a lady, much less yourself.

Once you did hear from the crush of the month, the phone drama was not complete until you made another phone call to your closest girlfriend to let her know that he had actually called and asked you out. This was met with effervescent meets unparalleled joy and camaraderie; questions about what you would wear on the date, and if time and your allowance permitted, a trip together to Bergdorf’s (Bigi’s was their very own teenage department), Bonwit’s, or one for teenage girls, like Fashion for Girls or Gay Timers.

It was a time of the prehistoric phone call — no answering machines, call waiting, call forwarding, call blocking, caller i.d., FaceTime, or rings that barked like your favorite dog breed.

When you got back from your date, the first thing you did was call your best girlfriend with a report on this major event. These calls often lasted for hours, (bathroom breaks not included), and were garnished with ice cream sandwiches and milkshakes on both ends.

Episodes of Peyton Place demanded their own follow up phone calls, for one on one analysis. We were our own Siskel and Ebert.

Would Alison steal Rodney from Betty? Why did Mia Farrow chop off yards of her own hair? Was it true that Frank Sinatra hated it?

In later years, my friends would ask me to join them for a glass of wine on the phone, while we talked about men, work, weekends, parents, and in-laws.

I still value the richness of a relaxed, newsy, or dishy phone call, a ritual rare and ringing in as redefined.

Who would think that we would have to request permission for a phone call with a text message? Spontaneity be damned.

Future shock, you can stop right there.


“For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue to grow but phone calls taper off.”
— Johnny Carson


Good to know…

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