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Woog's World / Texting goodbye to rabbit ears, 'Bonanza' and the home phone

Published 9:22 am, Sunday, September 8, 2013
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For years, as a soccer coach, I talked on the phone with players.

I called with schedule changes. We spoke about college applications. We discussed team issues, playing time -- whatever was important to a teenage athlete.

Nearly two decades ago -- longer than today's players have been alive -- email replaced phone calls. The shift was sudden. It made life simpler -- both of us did not have to be available at the same time to communicate -- and some boys found it easier to express themselves to an adult in writing than by speaking.

Then came texting. It made email seem as antiquated as telegrams. Messages fly across cyberspace any time, anywhere (except while driving). Now, neither of us has to even open email. The one downside: When I have to send a long message, I default back to email. Then I text my players to check email -- which many of them would otherwise never do. Crazy and sad, but true.

But this is not a column about player-coach communication. It's about other things that have been lost, in the move from snail messages to warp speed.

For example: The home phone is dead.

Any child born since the start of the Clinton administration has no clue what "home phone" even means. They never knew what it was like having a "landline" -- mounted on the wall -- ring during a "family dinner."

"Who's calling please?" the mother would ask.

And the teenager, or younger child, on the other end would have an actual conversation with an actual adult who was not his or her own parent or teacher. The mother would ask what the call "was in reference to." She might suggest calling back "after dinner." She was even capable of asking about school, or music lessons or scouts.

The rapid rise of cellphones, and the equally speedy gathering of dust on landlines, means that most youngsters today have no idea how to talk on the phone to someone who does not share their last name. Parents, meanwhile, have no idea who their child is talking to -- or when. The telltale tangle of cord -- stretching from the "hall phone" into the bathroom, so a child could "have a little privacy, please!" -- is as antediluvian as television rabbit ears.

Which is an excellent segue into something else that has gone packing -- watching TV with the family. Back in the day -- "the day" being channels 2 through 13 -- entire households gathered around the television. There might be an auxiliary set in the parents' bedroom, but the nice, color TV always sat in the "living room." There would be few arguments over what to see, because every family in Westport watched what every other family across America was watching. "I Love Lucy," "Bonanza," "Get Smart," "All in the Family," "Bill Cosby" -- whatever was popular that year was what two or three generations of the same family watched.

Together.

The proliferation of TV screens -- meaning also, of course, computer monitors, laptops, tablets and, coming soon, movies shown directly inside your skull -- has made family television viewing as archaic as drive-in movie-viewing.

Besides which, who watches TV in real time anyway? Between Netflix, Hulu, and the ability of 6-year-olds to download TV shows before the actors have even completed their scenes, we can see anything we want, any time we wish.

Gone are the family communication skills we learned huddled around sets in the "den." But those are not the only ways families no longer communicate.

"Car trips" used to be filled with the lamest games ever invented by bored parents. "Geography" consisted of five hours of coming up with place names based on the last letter of the previous player's choice. In the history of "Geography," no one ever offered a name that did not end in "a." A more interactive contest was "License Plates," in which everyone tried to spot the most exotic license plate first. This game is impossible to play today, for two reasons.

One is that every state has multiple versions of its license plate. What with honoring veterans, pets, missing children, sports teams and endangered species, it's impossible to tell which state is which. I've lived here nearly all my life, and I see new Connecticut plates every day.

The second reason that no one plays "License Plates" anymore is that, from the moment a long car ride begins, every child is anesthetized by media. She may be watching a movie on a TV screen, or listening to "music" (don't get me started) through headphones. He may be texting friends to find out everything he's missed since leaving stupid, boring Westport, eight minutes earlier.

Receiving that news is so crucial, he won't even bother to respond to my text. In which I ask him to check his email, for some very important information from me.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.