(com­mu­nica­tive)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - John Lechte Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

For many of us who grew up in the 1950s, the land­line tele­phone was our trea­sured source of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. When the phone rang, it sparked a surge of ex­cite­ment and an­tic­i­pa­tion.

My mother would al­most in­vari­ably an­swer, as my broth­ers and I were thought too young to cope with call­ers — be they grand­moth­ers or other rel­a­tives, friends of the fam­ily, par­ents of our school friends invit­ing us for a play date, or those want­ing to in­vite my ex-politi­cian fa­ther to speak at one gath­er­ing or an­other.

When I was in pri­mary school, we lived in var­i­ous houses on the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula. Dial phones were not yet avail­able. In­stead, it was a mat­ter of lift­ing the re­ceiver and ask­ing for the num­ber.

When we moved to a small farm 70km out­side the Melbourne metropoli­tan area, the phone had a han­dle on the front, which one turned vig­or­ously to con­nect with the tele­phon­ist, who then ob­tained the de­sired num­ber. Some­times my mother would have a quick chat be­fore be­ing con­nected.

I was by then in my early teens and had my first girl­friend. Cour­tesy of Amer­i­can teen cul- ture (through films and Teenager’s Weekly) I knew the phone had be­come the cen­tre­piece of boy-girl re­la­tions.

That is, one could coolly call a girl­friend’s home, get straight through and be able to have the most in­ti­mate con­ver­sa­tion unen­cum­bered by par­ents. Or if a par­ent an­swered, they would say some­thing like: “I’m sure Bar­bara will be thrilled that you rang, I’ll just get her for you.”

If only this sce­nario could have been repli­cated in my case. Af­ter much ef­fort I had man­aged to ob­tain the phone num­ber of the girl of my dreams and dared to call her. But it was her fa­ther who an­swered and he was in no mood for teenage af­fairs of the heart: “Yes — who is it? ... No, she’s not avail­able. Please don’t call again.”

It was best, we de­cided, if she called me at a given time. As the ap­pointed hour ap­proached, ev­ery­one seemed to be crowd­ing around the phone. The place was full of noise. I didn’t know what I would say; I only knew that I was des­per­ate to hear the phone ring.

How times have changed! We still keep a land­line for mak­ing over­seas calls, but ac­tu­ally live in dread that the phone might ring. In­vari­ably, it is an­other cold caller — maybe a well-known char­ity with an im­pec­ca­ble mar­ket­ing strat­egy — try­ing their luck. With ev­ery­one sim­i­larly af­flicted, a call to a land­line num­ber rarely gets a re­sponse; at best, one will get through to voice­mail.

Some may say that this doesn’t mat­ter be­cause there is al­ways the mo­bile. For my part, I say that it is the be­gin­ning of a break­down in com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 450 and 500 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej was the king of which coun­try from 1946 to 2016? What type of nut is an in­gre­di­ent in a tra­di­tional Scot­tish Dundee cake? Lu­so­phones are peo­ple who speak which lan­guage? Which AFL club awards the Peter Crim­mins Medal?

is an an­cient Greek tragedy writ­ten by whom?

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