Free Range Free Chat

Hello, anybody home? It’s Monday as October winds down, and here at Free Range, we’re wondering why no one answers the phone anymore? Remember pre-cell phones? Pay phones? Curly cords and rotary dials?

The Atlantic writes about the death of telephone culture, indicating another of those changes happening under our noses, another reminder that adaptability is THE indicator of surviving the changes happening as we go forward.

Americans learned to say “hello.” People built a culture around the phone that worked. Etiquette magazines tried to prevent women from inviting people over for dinner via telephone, then gave in. The doctor got a phone, so the pharmacist got a phone. It didn’t happen quickly, but it happened. And once it was done, during my childhood, these social customs sat between me and this raw technical artifact—the handset, the curly cord connecting it to the base, the wires running across the nation, coming together in vast switching stations, amplified, multiplexed, and then branching back out to the other cities, other neighborhoods, other blocks, other houses. In the moment when a phone rang, there was an imperative. One had to pick up the phone

Old red telephone isolated on white

There are many reasons for the slow erosion of this commons. The most important aspect is structural: There are simply more communication options. Text messaging and its associated multimedia variations are rich and wonderful: words mixed with emoji, Bitmoji, reaction gifs, regular old photos, video, links. Texting is fun, lightly asynchronous, and possible to do with many people simultaneously. It’s almost as immediate as a phone call, but not quite. You’ve got your Twitter, your Facebook, your work Slack, your email, FaceTimes incoming from family members. So many little dings have begun to make the rings obsolete.

The Atlantic

But in the last couple years, there is a more specific reason for eyeing my phone’s ring warily. Perhaps 80 or even 90 percent of the calls coming into my phone are spam of one kind or another. Now, if I hear my phone buzzing from across the room, at first I’m excited if I think it’s a text, but when it keeps going, and I realize it’s a call, I won’t even bother to walk over. My phone only rings one or two times a day, which means that I can go a whole week without a single phone call coming in that I (or Apple’s software) can even identify, let alone want to pick up.

The Atlantic

Welcome to Free Range, our Monday free chat with an environmental bent. Today’s environment is the culture surrounding us— changing fast—yesterday we talked on phones, today we dread the phone ringing; phone culture is disappearing because we’re deciding it no longer works as a means of chat; a reminder of appointments, maybe, but robocalls and spam will have to find another way….

Meanwhile, what’s going on in your world? If it’s anything like mine, it feels like maybe things will start slowing down, after midterms and we get to test our ability to adapt, to keep adapting.

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