June 22, 2018

Bring Back the Family Phone

Phones aren’t what they used to be!  (Cranky old man voice)  Back in my day, we use to talk on the phone!

What the heck is going on??  Why do we even call these giant dominos everyone has in their back pockets “phones” anyway?

When people say "phone" these days, we generally mean a tiny, portable, internet device they use to take photographs, send text messages, look up information, get driving directions, listen to music, watch movies and check the time.  If you think about it, the word "phone" doesn't even make sense any more.  "Phone" is short for telephone, which means "far sound".  The original device that bore the name was made for talking to someone at a distance.  The one thing many smartphone users don't seem to use their phone for is to talk to someone!  (It doesn’t help that the sound is so bad for calls).

I think a lot has been lost by this original use being ejected.  I think we ought to re-think the whole phone thing.  I think that land lines should come back into fashion for everyone who shares a home with any other people.

I'm all for the benefits of personal cell phones, such as increased safety, time-saving efficiency, and getting to our destination by the shortest route.  But I’m not sure it’s really always an advantage to be able to directly contact only the one individual you want, at the moment you want to.  There are times, of course when this may save lives and avert disaster.  But, there is a lot to be said for making a phone call, not knowing who will answer – like used to happen before cell phones.  Remember when there were only land lines?  Connected to the wall and a hand piece attached by a tightly curled cord?

This is actually one of the phones in my house.  Crazy!

Recently, I phoned my distant friend, Karen, on her home phone.  I still knew her land-line number by heart, so I dialed it.  The phone was answered by her husband, Mike, also a dear friend.  Karen wasn't home, but I had a wonderful catch-up conversation with him!  It is because they still maintain their land-line that I had the pleasure of speaking with him - because it would have been weird for me to call his cell phone just to chat as we did.  I have even had some fun conversations with her children, whom I’ve never met.

This is the brilliance of a land-line – a family phone.  They connect more people, not fewer, and in a more social way.  They are inclusive and foster communication and a greater sense of community.

How can I say they foster communication more than a device that enables you to send an instant message directly to the intended individual, in writing, complete with photographs and web-links?  It’s because they are not individual that they foster communication.  When you call a family phone, you really don’t know who will answer.  You have to be prepared.  You may have to confirm that it’s the right person and may even have to let them know who’s calling (if like us, you don’t even have caller ID).  You feel like you’re calling that family, not just the individual – for better or for worse!  A family phone has a broader spectrum of communication potential than a cell phone.

They tell me I'll only get away with this
 for two more years!
So-called “Smart” phones divide people at least as much as they connect them.  Maybe more!  My recent experience is that calls are often replaced by text messages for smartphone users.  Even the voice is removed, along with all its nuance, familiarity – and personality.  I do have a cell phone – and I use it – but I avoid texting as a way of chatting.  Not because I’m morally superior, but largely because I’m still clinging to my flip-phone.  It’s really cumbersome to text.  And I like it that way, because it forces me not to use that as my default communication. 

More and more of my friends have changed their outgoing voice mail message to request that you not leave a voice message because they just don’t listen to them.  They see that you called and call back – or, you can text them!  I’m not criticizing them for this.  It works for them, all those I know having a house-full of children, including toddlers.  But, it does create both an immediate connection AND a distance.

One of the truths about human persons mentioned early in Holy Scripture is that it is not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18).  Even earlier, we learn that man is made in God’s image; it’s recorded as God saying “in our image” because, as we know, the one God is a Trinity of divine Persons (Gen 1:26).  The human person is made to be in relationship with others, like a family.  And we see who, from the beginning, is out to wreck relationship connections.  Satan wants to isolate us – from each other, from God, from truth.  Just look at the rest of the story in the book of Genesis.

I think getting back a family phone also may be just the answer for parents who are struggling with the decision of whether or not to get their adolescent a smartphone.  That all their friends have one, may be just the reason not to get them one!  We’ve all seen a family group gathered around a living room or a restaurant table, where the teens present are, shall we say, not really present.  They are swiping and tapping, gazing slack-jawed at their phones, maybe texting a friend or a group of friends.  They are actually checking out of their family to foster a relationship with preferred others not physically present.

If you’re a parent seeking an answer to the kid-phone dilemma, consider hooking up a landline for all of them (and you!) to use when at home.

Here are some great advantages  to get a Family Phone:

·        The quality of the connection is radically superior to that of cell phones.

·        You can’t take the land line to the dinner table to text your friends below the tablecloth.

·        Since it is less private, it can actually be safer because it’s hard to have sneaky conversations.

·        It’s only a phone, so no worries about inappropriate or unsafe internet use.

·        Children can begin to use the phone at a younger age.  Even a four-year-old can answer the phone and retrieve the person the call is for.  (“Hello, Pearce residence”)

·        You have a chance of knowing who your kid is friends with when you happen to answer the call.  It’ll be good for them to have a chance to talk to a grown-up.

·        It forces you to speak in complete sentences.

Obviously, this doesn’t solve all the logistical problems like communicating with them when they’re out, but there are many other solutions for that that are not smartphones.  It really is possible to make the family phone their primary means of communicating with friends.

If you still have your old land line, start passing that phone number around to friends and see if you don’t feel even more connected as a family.  If it catches on, we’ll all be reconnecting with the others in our friends’ households we probably haven’t spoken to in years.

One more antiquated phone in my household

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