As usual, strolling the stately property of Doris Duke has given me new inspiration to write. There is something in the air at that location that infects me with creativity. That, or I can give credit to my darling company from that afternoon. I met Kim through the Trials of Doris, and we instantly became friends. At the time, she lost her cell phone and had to get a new one, which led to quite a conversation about newfangled telephone technology and the real consequences of such devices. If you’re reading this Kim, this one is just for you!
Kim spoke of how much simpler it was when we all had to memorize phone numbers or when the only resort to maintain them was to write them down with pen and paper. So naturally, I start to pick apart the components of numerical memorization in my head and what it must have been like before texting was considered a personable method of communication. The candlestick phones, the lines at telephone boxes, and the well-loved rotary phones… Has the digital age taken away from all this? And since when can someone build up relations with others through typing on a screen. No, emojis won’t convey feelings, regardless of how candid. It was time to go retro for me.
My first step was purchasing an address book from Walgreens for $6. I spent a decent amount of time filling it out, just because of how many numbers I store in my cell phone. Starting on the week of February 1st in 2016, Kim’s honorary address book started to migrate with me wherever I went. Instead of relying on the modern conveniences of typing in an auto-fill name, I spent time trying to type in the entire number of a person to eventually remember which number belongs to whom. Upon further inspection about 10 days later, I realized the repetition of numbers came more easily to me. I wouldn’t have to reference the address book as much for area codes or the last four numbers. By suggestion, my candlestick landline was getting more exercise from this experiment too. So what exactly did it all mean?
For one thing, using a phone book and a landline is a bit less static-ridden. Even in the two minute conversations I hosted, the quality of voice is significantly different on a landline than a cellular connection. What is so appealing about sitting down and talking though? Why are people successfully selling replica vintage telephones (and even modifying originals for today’s phone jacks)? What was so minimally satisfying about remembering phone numbers?
I have a few theories. Foremost, let’s talk numbers. When numbers have relevance, like correlating them with your best friends and family, they are easily remembered. If asked to memorize arbitrary numbers in a sequence, it is hopeless! So by pairing numbers with a good reason to remember them, we are more likely to retain that information. By this cognitive logic, people who grew up using or have used address books in their lives have trained themselves to be better at number retention. Remembering someone is also one of the warmest ways we show we care. It shows that the person took interest, took effort, and that the recipient-of-recollection is valuable. Bravo, darlings!
Another piece of the puzzle is that those who have to speak in order to communicate (versus texting or other nonverbal social media) rob themselves of learning. Without excessive practice hearing others talk and reciprocating, where do we truly hone our skills to create effective dialogue? There is a natural desire for humans to be social creatures, not social media creatures. After a while, we will crave this natural, timeless method of contact. Sure, use the modern commodities, they’re fun! But don’t become dependent on them.
Finally, the charm and aesthetic appeal of telecommunications resonates throughout the 20th century. I found this absolutely chic telephone table at the forever-perfect Somerville Central Antiques store. Similar furnishings have existed to accommodate and make comfortable the telephone and its listener. Unfortunately, we don’e see enough of them!
So the moral of Kim’s address book? Pause. Don’t post all the time. Instead, grab your phone, dial your dear ones, and talk. Fill the void with beautiful chatter and the sounds of life.