I am old enough to remember when a long distance phone call was a very big deal.
Maybe other families were cool about these calls. When I was a kid, my group just wasn’t. Calls were scarce from people living far away, so the occasion usually caused wide-spread panic in our house: “Everybody! Come quick! They’re calling LONG DISTANCE!!!” At Christmas and New Year, each member of the family would have a turn talking to whoever phoned – never mind that the conversation itself would be repeated in each telling: “What did Santa bring you? Who’s coming over for dinner? What will you do on your Christmas vacation?” But the calls had to be kept short, mostly because we were all acutely aware of the additional expense, “It’s LONG DISTANCE!!!!” but also because there was inevitably a “bad connection.” The crackly, tinny, echoey signal made communication difficult, at least it did at my house in spite of the fact that everyone talked at really high volume as if the person on the other end might actually hear us if we yelled loud enough. And because these calls were such a rarity, everyone forgot how to talk like normal people and the conversation got all awkwardly weird: “Oh, yup, yuh, yuh, everybody’s fine. And there? Oh! U-huh. Uh-huh. Oh, yup, yuh, yuh, that sounds good! Well, o.k.! I guess I should let you go now!” Hardly ever was there actual real news shared in these calls.
Over the years, telecommunications improved, of course, and long distance calls lost their curiosity. But even in fresh memory, maybe as recently as a few years ago, it was tough to “get through” on major holidays. The phone lines jammed with callers and you’d get a message from the telephone company saying, “I’m sorry. Your call cannot be completed at this time.” So you’d redial over and over hoping to catch a gap in the “call volume” or you’d wait until “later” when your family would inevitably translate the late hour as your uncaring attitude toward them. And even when long distance rates came down to infinitesimal amounts on calling plans, my mother would still say things like, “Well, I should let you go. This is costing you an arm and a leg. It’s LONG DISTANCE!”
That’s all history of course, but I had it in mind this holiday season when we chatted with friends and family via FaceTime on Ken’s iPhone – with video! Imagine! What a total miracle that is. Mind you, the conversations were pretty much the same as they have always been: “What did Santa bring you? Who’s coming over for dinner?” but now we could see each other! And we’d wave to one another! And show each other around the house: “Here’s the Christmas tree! Here’s the dog wearing his Christmas collar. Here’s what we got from Santa. Here’s the turkey carcass.” It was almost like being together! The technology isn’t perfect yet, though. We lost connection with friends in Vancouver every few minutes and we’d wait while FaceTime gave us a “Please wait while we reconnect you” message. But I thought it was a nice bit of symmetry with the past that the communications weren’t absolutely flawless. It was kind of fun that way.
One fly in the ointment, however. If we are on the edge of a future when our phone calls will be accompanied by video, it’s a bit like getting unexpected company. I’m not sure I’m prepared to be dressed and out of the jammies, hair washed and makeup on, just in case someone calls long distance on Skype or FaceTime. And the house is going to have to be kept tidy at all times! We walked into the kitchen during our call with our Vancouver friends and turned around at the doorway! “OOOPS! Yikes! Forgive the mess! We haven’t done the dishes yet!” Uh, call 'ya later!