Last night, we watched the movie Terms of Endearment. The movie still provides some sentimental waterfalls, but there are some things that seemed so modern in 1983 when the movie was made that are nearly archaic now thirty years later. Phones were push button but still in the old rotary style with the coiled cord and receiver. The movie shows a scene where a large rectangular portable phone presents itself poolside. How “modern” this cordless box appeared that even the character played by Debra Winger pulls it away from her ear to give it a smirk.
How far we’ve come in these thirty years – for better and for worse. The four of us watching the film began talking about the advent of the cell phone into our lives and how it changed communication skills once that tiny little piece of technology made its way into mainstream life. My friend recounted his experience working in a restaurant where communication among employees was open and made for the smooth running of the establishment for his first four or five years in his job as cook. But then slowly over the course of a year, cell phones began appearing in the hands of the waiters, cooks, dishwashers, and managers. Instead of talking with one another, communication occurred over the plastic encased wires, making face-to-face talking less and less. Efficiency among the staff deteriorated as did the quality of service.
It’s even worse today with the introduction of texting into our lives. I’ll admit it’s convenient to text someone a quick note, but now instead of living lives, paying attention while shopping, walking, or driving, folks text their messages to their phone. We’re going to lose our ability to appreciate our surroundings. I understand the allure. I finally came into the modern world this month when I was upgraded to an iphone with my cell phone company. It’s addicting to follow my career and personal life on this little square screen that fits in my pocket and alerts me whenever Carmelitta Carson tweets or Joseph Jackson posts his status on Facebook or when Monster Mart sends me an email letting me know that kitchen sinks are now on sale. Meanwhile, my husband is telling me – in person – about his schedule for the next week. I didn’t hear him with all the other distractions occurring worlds away from my present. I put the phone away and turned off the beeps and buzzes informing me of nonsense nonessential to living my life.
Last week I wrote a post (Becoming a Non-Person) about becoming a non-person in a wheelchair. I mentioned my friend whose brother faces the challenges of multiple sclerosis that has left him bed- and wheel-chair bound. This past weekend his nurse, who comes every morning to shower and care for him while my friend goes to work, was fired. This nurse was a God-send because she treated my friend’s brother as a worthwhile human being bringing him smiles and laughter. My friend was devastated and waited an entire day before telling her brother. When she finally told him yesterday, he calmly took the news and asked for the phone. He called the boss of the agency that fired the nurse, and he became his old self – confident and strong – and within thirty minutes brought the boss to tears as he convinced her the nurse should be rehired because they were fortunate to have her, and whatever issues occurred to cause her firing should be addressed and used as a way to help this valuable employee and human being.
My friend wrote me this morning to tell me the nurse was rehired, and she could hear her brother and the nurse conversing in the next room.
Those of us on our fancy new forms of communications are the ones in danger of becoming non-persons, not the wonder in the wheelchair who still knows the importance of communicating with confidence, clarity, and compassion. Let’s not make him an endangered species.