I HAD a conversation with a man whom I regularly meet when out walking. The last time I met Davy I inquired if he had had ‘the jab’ as they were advertising for his age group and he told me he would make a phone call later.
It transpired that he had no phone. I delivered a lecture on the advantages of the mobile phone, WiFi, WhatsApp etc and assured him that he could get organised with minimal expense. I met him again today and discovered that he has an appointment for vaccination and his sister is organising WiFi and a mobile phone is on its way to him in the post.
As I left him I began to ponder on how we have become dependent on our phones, especially so-called mobile and smartphones.
I grew up in a small village in County Armagh. When I was eight years old news came through that our doctor had died suddenly. (It was many years later that I learned he had taken an overdose.) I can remember Dr Watson giving me an injection which really hurt and having to take cod liver oil.
Everyone In our village was transferred to the books of the doctor in the neighbouring village, the Moy, and I can remember an old bachelor farmer asking the local postmaster where Dr Hobson’s house was. Barney, the postmaster, thought for a minute and said: “James, when you cross the bridge, follow the telephone wires!”
In our village there were then just three home phones and a public kiosk which was situated about twenty yards from our front door. It was right outside the house in which the secretary of the GAA club lived and he told us that they had it put there because most of the phone calls were for him.
My older brothers would tell girls at dances that their phone number was Benburb 234 and there was often a knock on our door. “There's a phone call for Eamon!”
As time went on house phones became more and more common. Bottled milk, fancy collars and ties and motor-cars were followed by phones. With two sons and two daughters in the USA my mother tired of running to the local kiosk late at night and had a house phone installed in the late 1950s. For me, the telephone directory was a more interesting asset than the telephone.
CALL LIKE A COURT SUMMONS
Our father forbade us to answer the phone unless we were definitely expecting a call.
He believed there was a time and a place. The time was daylight and the place was your business. A call at night was seen like a court summons. One call in three was a “Would you mind” running down to a house and tell them to ring Mary.
And of course there were nuisance calls. You could tell the nuisance calls by the length of time taken to come to the point. He asks about your health, then he inquires about your tricks. He beats about dozens of bushes.
On April 4, 1924, the Bell System Telephone company celebrated the 40th anniversary of telephone service in Tacoma by holding a luncheon for the surviving original subscribers to Tacoma's first telephone exchange.— THS - Tacoma History (@Tacoma_History) April 4, 2021
📷: @tacomalibrary#TacomaHistory pic.twitter.com/326v0BnYMU
He inquires if you have any idea why he is calling you. You have now learnt to play the game and by keeping him online you know his phone bill is rising. After a battle of wits you might take pity on him and tell him we will have to leave this business until tomorrow as you have a pressing call to make – the police!
As more and more houses were linked up, people no longer asked if you were on the phone. “Give me your number and I will give you a ring.” If you said you hadn't a phone they looked at you as if you had ringworm. Others carried the presumption a little further and thumbed through the directory and phoned up some unfortunate being who shared your name.
As more people chose to go ex-directory the incidence of nuisance calls receded. It got to the stage where the vast majority of homes had a landline phone.
They say that history repeats itself. For many young couples setting up home nowadays the traditional home phone is a thing of the past, replaced by the mobile, usually a smartphone. Some internet service providers require you to have a landline and offer phone deals as part of your contract, so you might as well get what you're paying for.
However, the fall in landline ownership continues. More than one in five people aged over 75 use a smartphone with about half having broadband in their homes. 99 per cent of people aged between 16 and 24 years are using smartphones.
Nuisance calls are largely a thing of the past but we still get a few pranks played. In the 3Cs club one night Billy Gillen had his phone make the notification sound every time he went to the bar. It was incredible to see eight or ten men reach into their pockets simultaneously to answer a call. Wee Jim McWilliams had a word with Billy and learned the method. Every time a particular player who usually wore a waistcoat, was taking a critical shot, Jim’s phone rang out. The player would stand up straight and look at his phone. He never caught on why everyone was giggling.
Billy has another gag. If someone close to him on the bus is on the phone Billy will put his phone to his ear and answer back to everything they say while pretending he is on his phone. I'll get him to do this when Davy begins to make calls on his new smartphone.