Technology · The Last Half Century

Phone Calls Ain’t What They Used To Be

As I talked on the phone the other night with my granddaughter, I thought about how natural it is for her to have a video call. Even more amazing to me is that we were talking while I was out for a walk. She was able to share the sights around me. The availability of video calls is something she takes for granted. It’s perfectly normal to her, but something I only dreamed about when I was a kid more than 50 years ago.

In those days a video call was the stuff of science fiction. It was a make believe thing we watched on the Jetson’s cartoon. Even the idea of talking to someone on the phone who lived far away was a rare event. In those days if someone didn’t live in the same area as you, it was likely you would be charged by the minute for a long distance call. The more you talked, the more expensive it was to talk to friends and family who lived out of town. There was always pressure to keep the calls short — a tough thing for a chatty kid to do when there was so much to talk about.

I recall my mom tallying up my calls to my girlfriend who lived about 40 minutes away. She made me pay for the calls as a way to teach me to keep my conversations short. Some months it would’ve been cheaper to drive to see her, but when you’re in love, you do what’s necessary to stay in touch with your future wife. I had to talk to her.

When I did see her and had to leave, she wanted to know that I safely arrived home. To avoid the cost of a long distance call, I would call her parents’ phone after I arrived home, let it ring twice, then hang up. She would then know I made it home without incident and without the cost of a long distance call. (Once the call connected, you would be charged for the call and of course we would’ve talked for at least a few minutes.)

I am grateful that we no longer worry about long distance calls and that video calling is so common place that we don’t think twice about it. The availability of video calls has been a blessing during this pandemic when physically separated from loved ones. During extended times apart, I am grateful for the ability to virtually visit with friends and family as long as I want to without worrying about paying by the minute. We can stay in touch by phone, video calls or texts every day. It’s not the same as being there in person, but it sure beats the limited world of phone calls 50 years ago.

It’s a reminder for me to not take for granted even the small things we have today — to be grateful for what I do have during a time of so much loss in the world.

© 2021 CGThelen

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