Thursday, 14 March 2013

Communication Devices

On this past Monday afternoon - when I left the Lillian H. Smith branch library - the time was near 4:30 in the afternoon and the sidewalks (especially on the north side of College Street) were crowded by university students leaving their classes. As I turned onto the sidewalk to walk east I was faced by a younger man walking along while texting. I could have walked around him but I stopped just to see what would happen. At the last minute he glanced up, noticed me, and stepped to his right in order to pass on my left.

I have noticed people doing this all the time - whether on sidewalks, in stores, on subway platforms, in transit vehicles - and I wonder how many have encountered accidents because they were not alert?  We - as a society - have become addicted to the communication devices so, as a senior citizen, I have begun to wonder how this is affecting interaction between people?

Telephones were invented well before I was born and, as we were a poor family, we could not afford to have one in our house until I was well into my teen-age years.

My maternal grandfather was born and raised in the agricultural village of Theodore, Saskatchewan and - one of the stories that he used to relate - was about the arrival of telephones in that village.

Naturally, the doctor was one of the first to acquire a telephone. One day he was chatting over the telephone with a patient when he heard the telltale 'click' of another receiver being lifted. Somehow he knew who that other person was so he said, "Mrs. S............?" A woman's voice responded breathlessly, "Yes, Doctor?" "Get off the line!"

For many of our growing up years, either my sister or I would be sent to a neighbor's house - quite a distance away from where we lived - with a quarter or a dime so that we could use the telephone that was there. Finally - in the early 1950s - the British Columbia Telephone Company acquired the funds to expand the telephone system so that everybody could have one. Our number was Lakeview (there was no lake any where near us!) 4398L3. It was a party line with six subscribers (three of us were given the descriptive 'L1, L2, and L3' with the other three subscribers 'R1, R2 and R3'). Our telephone would ring when calls were coming in for the "L" numbers but not for the "R" ones. "L2" had been assigned to our neighbor across the road but we had no idea who owned "L1".

Around that same time two of Alda's girlfriends were hired as telephone operators so, when we picked up the receiver to place a call, we would hope that either Kathleen or Gladys would be the operator and, if so, we would gossip for a couple of minutes before giving her the number that we wanted.

One of Alda's sisters-in-law was married to a son of a leading family in the Forest Grove/100 Mile House area in the Cariboo Country in north central B.C. In the eyes of many of the neighbors, the Sandbacks were rich people - they had done well with the ranch that they owned as well as with a sawmill or two - so, when Claire Sandback would give us a call, we would hear the ring, pick up the receiver and Claire would begin chatting to whichever one of us had answered. Not long after we began the chat we would hear the line becoming fainter and fainter and then Claire's voice  yelling, "Get Off the Effing Line!". B. C. Telephone was not yet established in the smaller interior communities so the local system was locally owned. When a caller wanted to call long distance, a special number had to be used. This caused a certain ring to sound in all of the subscribers' homes  so many would know that one of the 'Rich Sandbacks' was calling long distance and curiosity would outweigh good manners. We always chuckled when that occurred!

Now all sorts of methods for communicating with others are in use. My partner lives in the San Francisco Bay area. He has a computer and at least one of the texting devices. His telephone, however, is a cellphone which was given to him by his grandparents. Therefore - when I call him in the Bay Area - actually I am calling Arkansas and that is the area code which appears in the listing of long distance calls on the telephone bill. Even that is different as I have signed up with a long distance service for seniors that is based in Montreal - it is to them that I send my remittance to cover the long distance charges. Gone are the telephones hooked up to a wall in the house and shared by a number of neighbors!

I have a computer, Ric has a computer, most of my family members who live in B.C. and Alberta have computers, and I believe that all of my friends and acquaintances have them as well. Sometimes we message friends or family members directly while - at other times - we leave messages in the more public places like Facebook. As for me, the latter only works when what I want to communicate is NOT personal and private.

When I lived in Australia and needed to call my family - or be called by them - the process was lengthy and passed through services rendered by many different operators. The transmission was by cable which extended from continent to continent beneath the oceans (which made the sound of the transmissions odd - it was like speaking into a tube with a 'hollow sound' emitting at the other end). Those calls were quite infrequent, however, due to the awkwardness of the system and the cost that would appear upon the monthly telephone bill!

I have a computer and a land line telephone. I have had a cellphone but it was used only when I was traveling in the Bay Area and needed to communicate with Ric. I may get another cellphone at some future time - but I doubt very much that I will be texting!

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