I don’t need to be glued to my phone now because I used to be leashed to it.
This is what I’ve figured out is wrong with young people: they don’t wait by the telephone anymore.
People blame it all on “instant gratification.” If we’ve heard those two words once, we’ve heard them a thousand times. My question is–what happens when you don’t get gratified instantly?
I remember when I’d call someone I had a crush on. This was the general routine: you called your crush, and his mom picked up. She says he isn’t there and she’ll have him call you back after dinner and homework; and even though you hear him in the background, you figure he’s busy. You’re pretty sure that you’re wrong when you thought you heard him say, “Tell her I’m not here!” So you wait. Or you leave a message on their answering; make sure you give your middle name, too. You eat your dinner in your mom’s bedroom next to her phone, with the excuse that you’re waiting for your best friend to call any minute. And you wait and you maybe listen to the radio on the local top-40, or you do your homework. And you wonder what he’s doing and what he’s thinking, because he’s so deep and smart in addition to being so cute. (LOL okay.) And you wait. And time goes on and it’s already dark, and you wonder why you’re so ugly.
Since he very rarely called back (rarely meaning never), you had some time on your hands. You couldn’t move away from the phone, so you had to come up with something to occupy yourself with because you could be in for a long, long wait. You had to think. Perform this routine numerous times and you will have developed something called a personality. You got to do your homework and become smart. That’s why people who were losers in school are smarter, and often more interesting.
Circumstances forced you to reflect on your own feelings. You cycled through several emotions—excitement, anticipation, annoyance, denial, worry, dejection. Or maybe your parents or his didn’t pay the phone bill and that’s why he can’t call. But one thing was for sure, you couldn’t just scroll through your phone and find someone else to bother. The problem with the smartphone is that it doesn’t give you time to process. Sitting and waiting, you have no choice but to process. Maybe it was all useless processing that just reinforced my innate obsessive, stalkerish behaviors. But at least I had the chance to develop that.
The biggest pitfall was that you had to keep a keen ear out for the sound of someone—aka your mother—picking up the other phone and listening to you so she could yell at you later for what you said about that boy. I don’t know that you ever really truly recover from that kind of paranoia. Or worse, when your mom starts talking in the middle of your conversation. That doesn’t produce fun feelings. You’ll never use a phone again without worrying, in some deep recess of your subconsciousness, if someone is listening. Actually, my boss did do that to me and someone else on a phone call—she had picked up her phone, putting it into conference call mode, and I didn’t know until she started speaking. That too was not a day of fun. So I guess it goes to show that my paranoia is somewhat justified.
It’s just that nobody needs to wait anymore. If someone doesn’t text you back, it doesn’t matter, because you’ve already moved on the next person’s Instagram or Tik Tok or whatever the hell else people use today. Or they swipe right. Or left. I don’t know which and I don’t even know what app that originates from. I just know that they swipe if a person is acceptable or not and that it’s considered a very shallow and objectifying thing to do, unless you, of course, are the one being swiped upon positively. Then again, there was Hot or Not. Thank God I never got involved in that or I think the blows to self-esteem would have been fatal.
Instant messaging arrived and changed the dynamics by introducing new forms of waiting. I remember when it emerged on AOL. I had a crush on a guy—actually, the same guy whose call I waited for—and when messaging him, I’d write out this whole thing and every reply I got was “o.” Lower case “o.” I guess he didn’t even like me enough to capitalize the letter, let alone spell the whole word, “Oh.” I wasn’t even worth pressing an extra key. The only time I got a word was if I asked a question, he’d answer “i dunno.” Deep inside I was a little disappointed, but I figured that his even replying to me at all meant that he liked me back. As with the phone, you did your fair share of waiting, hunched over your computer waiting for the message ding. But, it was also the dawn of the short social attention span—you could message multiple people at once, usually about your crush, while obsessively checking your conversation with him.
Instant messaging also allowed for new forms of humiliation. I remember when my friends called me up screaming “YOU HAVE A DATE FOR THE DANCE!!!!!! ” , only to find out my friends messaged him pretending to be me threatening to kill myself if he didn’t go to the dance with me. How’s that for a self-esteem boost? The dance, needless to say, wasn’t what I hoped it would be, as he mostly kept asking me if he could dance with my friend.
Moms weren’t gatekeepers anymore, either. That opened up a whole new can of worms. Regrettable worms.
I don’t know anything about being the one who got the call back. Maybe the smartphone levels the playing field, maximizing one’s chances through the sheer power of numbers.
At least we had crush monogamy in those days. You had to be committed to stay by that phone. This couldn’t just be some kid you could care less about. They had to be worth it (the definition of “worth” being highly amusing when you consider the definition years later). Nowadays with the phone, it doesn’t matter. If you put yourself out there, sooner or later someone’s going to take the bait. But we had to put our eggs into one basket and stick with our decisions. In my case, it was the wrong basket for years. I don’t think people even have crushes any more.
Those people who do a week without a phone challenge do it to have bragging rights so they can bemoan how hard it was but they did it. Smartphones are technological leashes. You didn’t really unleash yourself. You’re just a dog in the yard who can come back inside anytime.