I don’t remember the girl (so I’ll call her Laurie), but I do remember the experience.
I was standing in my parent’s kitchen, and picked up the phone. My heart was racing as I heard the dial tone. Dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, it almost matched the pace of my heart. I had approximately 30-seconds to dial the seven numbers that were before me before the tone would go flat. 7-2-5 I dialed. I took a deep breath and finished the last four numbers. Ring. Ring. Ring. Then, “Hello.” Crap. The voice was male. Older. A dad? An uncle? An older brother? “Um,” I began, “can I, uh, can I please talk to Laurie?” Sensing my nerves, he replied, “Who’s calling?” “My name is Tom. I, uh, go to her school.” Then he started to toy. “And can I tell her why you’re calling?” “Um, I, uh, want to ask her to the banquet at our school,” I replied.
Even typing this now, I can feel the nerves. I remember the days of asking for a number, and having to call from my house phone to theirs. Our phone was centrally located in the kitchen, and had a cord that could expand about 12 feet. Stretching it to the limits, I could sit on the base of the stairs, but anyone could easily eavesdrop from the kitchen or living room. I was terrible with the ladies, worse on the phone, and always very nervous before I could get the words out.
Finally, Laurie came to the phone. “Hi Tom,” she said. I probably asked a few dumb questions before finally asking her to the dance.
I had a home phone all the way through college, but the process of asking girls out became a whole lot easier once I got a cellphone in 2003. I could simply ask for the girl’s number, and - as long as it was actually her number - I could talk just to her.
In the late-00’s it was easier yet. You could send a Facebook message or text to get the conversation started. And the in my final days of being single, an app called Tinder had become available and all you had to do was swipe your finger.
At 39 (wow. I’m getting old) I’m almost the perfect age to remember cellphones and their arrival to the scene. Home phones were the norm all through my schooling, and cell phone the norm when I entered the “real world”. My first professional job was in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Being 1500 miles away from my friends and family meant I relied on my cell phone to keep in touch. On a weekly (sometimes monthly) basis, I talked to all my friends and family. We’d chat about life and longings. To describe the place, I’d use words and the receiver would have to draw on pictures and experience for reference. My ‘pool house’ could look however they imaged a pool house to look.
In 2015, when my brother moved into a new apartment in Seattle, he simply had to Facetime me for me to see what it actually looked like. As he walked room by room, I could see what his place looked like. Likewise, for me to see the lake down the road from him, a lake he often spent the sunset near, he could take and send a picture.
Had you told High School Tom that in the matter of a decade and a half, there would be a technology that not only took away the anxiety of the home phone call, but also made it possible to see and chat with someone on the other side of the country (and/or world), I think he would have been excited. But I’m not sure he would have believed you. Or if he had, if he would be able to conceptualize it. Do I take a picture, develop the film and mail it? Wait. What? I do it on a phone?
These are major changes. Changes that are useful in many was. But major changes that we don’t really reflect upon but probably should.