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AT&T would be in big trouble today with its 1970s slogan, ‘reach out and touch someone’
New Dennis Wyatt mugshot summer 2022
Dennis Wyatt

Ma Bell must be rolling over in her grave.

There was a time not too long ago in America when every red-blooded teen couldn’t wait to grab a phone and talk.

Now, according to the research firm of MRI-Simmons, teen respondents to a survey indicated only 45 percent used their smartphone in the previous week to make an actual call. That’s down from 94% in 2012.

So, when did we really use phones to actually call people? It was back when you had to either find a payphone and carry 10 pounds of coins to feed the monster or negotiate a deal with your parents as to when you could use a phone that was typically teetered to the baseboard in the living room.

It came in two basic colors – dark black and light black. Clearly Steve Jobs’ dad did not work for AT&T.

If your family was cutting edge, you’d have a wall-mounted phone in the kitchen with a headset cord long enough to use as a skip rope.

The phone would come in 1970s versions of red, green and yellow with a black or white phone for those who weren’t mod.

And if your family was stinking rich by suburbia standards and could fork over $2 extra a month, your parents would have a princess phone in their bedroom with a lighted dial.

Teen girls knew they arrived when their parents sprung for a pink princess phone for their bedroom.

But then bad things started to happen about the time those newfangled push button phones started squeezing out rotary dialing.

At first it was just a business thing.

Then the soothing sound of the dial whirling after you poked a finger through the hole above the number you wanted and moved the dial as far as you could clockwise before releasing it was replaced with the plunking sound of buttons being pushed.

The buttons would often stick as phones were no longer popular murder weapons as they had gone from being made out of industrial grade steel to plastics. Mr. McGuire, when he told Benjamin Braddock 50 years ago in the movie “The Graduate” that “the future is in plastics” while wearing a big grin on his face, knew plastics were the sacred material of planned obsolescence and the shipping of more units to improve the bottom line.

As plastic proliferated, telephones became disposable. Teens went from getting away with “playing” with the handset by twirling the cord and banging it against everything imaginable because it was steel, to cracking the modern plastic ones when horsing around.

But even as household phones became less industrial grade and more fashion statement in reincarnations as Mickey Mouse and Garfield the Cat, the phone as an instrument to reach out and touch someone (I’d like to see AT&T try to revive that advertising slogan in the age of the #MeToo movement) was still in vogue.

Then some genius had to come up with voicemail. It made it possible to call someone up and communicate with them without actually talking to them. No longer did the person have to answer the phone nor did you have to have a live conversation to “communicate.”

Voicemail planted the seeds that it was alright not to communicate directly with someone using a phone while at the same time turning millions into liars saying they didn’t get a voice message you left because the tape got tangled.

That was the forerunner to today’s line that your phone crashed and wiped out all your emails and text messages but miraculously left intact the 60 videos you recorded of unique cat playing with a squeeze toy.

Eventually cell phones came along after the Era of the Brick, better known as the first mobile phones that weighed 20 pounds, gave you 20 minutes of airtime per charge, and cost the price of a 2019 full-loaded Chevy Silverado pickup to buy.

Cell phones came out after that were nothing more than that – cell phones.

Yes, there were some primitive games and texting assuming you were hardcore enough to do that and were willing to double your monthly phone bill so you could send messages.

For a while we all looked like Star Trek geeks with flip phones. But then we did it. We almost all flipped out – save those that still held onto the Blackberry mobile phone that Raquel Welch carried around in “One Million Year’s, B.C.” – and shucked our flip phones for smartphones.

Many of us were tempted by the forbidden fruit in the infancy of smartphones – the “Apple.”

The powers that be were right. Once we took the byte, the serpent known as Steve Jobs set about to destroy paradise.  Kodak? Who needs them? Timex? Passé. Bank tellers? Get real. Foldable maps and compasses? Why use them when we can blindly follow apps. Appointment books? They’re in the second-hand stores. Walkmans? Ear buds are more efficient ways at ruining your eardrums. Television sets? Who needs them when you can one up your great-grandmother’s worst nightmare of wrecking your vision by sitting a foot in front of washing machine sized TVs of yesteryear by burying your noise in the device the size of your hand while walking down the street and absentmindedly stepping into traffic to get killed instead.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of good things have come out of smartphones. We now can be bombarded 24/7 by scam artists based in outer Mongolia. We can enjoy dinner without having to acknowledge others at the table and get away with it.

Our fingers no longer get overworked doing the walking through the Yellow Pages.

Of course, without Yellow Pages and old-fashioned phone directories that deforested a third of the Amazon every year to print, we actually have to invest in booster chairs when relatives with young kids come over for Thanksgiving dinner.

The art of conversation — the way people interacted before technology allowed us to wall ourselves off and still “communicate” — has been on the ropes for years. I’m sure Emily Post is yearning for the days when people were rude to other people’s faces instead of blogging insults on social media that’s akin to spray painting obscene graffiti attacking someone anonymously and then running for cover. Both are vile acts that show no class and complete disregard of any sense of humanity.

Now, thanks to research, it appears traditional phone calls are rapidly going the way of the dodo birds which, by the way, is a reference to flightless birds on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean that became extinct in the 17th century and not your least favorite politician.

The moral of this column? Remember when your parents told you to stop talking on the phone? Be careful what you wish for. You might actually get it.

 This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Courier or 209 Multimedia.