Remember the Prince Spaghetti commercial with the Italian woman yelling out the window, “Anthony, Anthony!” to let him know dinner was ready? That’s how I grew up in the East New York section of Brooklyn in the ‘60s. You were never too far away to hear your mother calling you. Even with 50 different Anthonys on the same block, somehow, you were always dialed-in to your mother’s frequency.
The thought never crossed your mind to call your friends on the telephone because you weren’t allowed. Making telephone calls from your home was expensive. When you needed to talk to Johnny across the street, you put your shoes on and knocked on his door. Long distance? We didn’t even know what that was. Everyone in your universe lived within a five-block radius.
All that changed when we moved out to the suburbs. Calling your friends on the phone was now necessary, although most times you would just jump on your bike and ride to their house. When that phone rang, everyone in your home would rush to the phone to answer it, yelling, “I got it, I got it!” Today, we avoid the phone like the plague when it rings, wondering, “Who could that be?”
I think we take for granted the little device that has changed our lives forever. Today’s cellphones have evolved so much that making and receiving phone calls is no longer its primary purpose. It’s hard to imagine coordinating a simple dinner with another couple before cellphones.
Today, you use a smartphone to make a reservation on an app that will send you an email confirmation. You text the other couple the details. They text you back, “Got it!” Before leaving, you text the other couple to update them. They text you back because they are running “a little late.” When you get in your car, you use your phone to plot a path to the restaurant you have been to 20 times before.
Once at the restaurant, there is no parking, so you text the other couple, warning them to park down the block. They text you back that they are just leaving. Inside, the maître d informs you they are running behind and your reservation has been pushed back to 8:30. You text the other couple the updated reservation time and they text you back, “OK.”
As you wait in the bar, you get a text message from the other couple, who just parked the car and are now walking in. You text back, “OK. We’re at the bar.” They text back, “See you soon!”
Total communication every step of the way.
Now compare that to the stone age before cellphones. First, you had to call the restaurant and speak to a person to make an 8 o’clock reservation. Then you made another call to the other couple, informing them of the reservation time and that you will meet them there. How antiquated is that?
But somehow, you both got there, found a place to park and met inside. Amazing.
Just because you can send 10 text messages back and forth on your way to a simple dinner reservation doesn’t mean you should.
As young adults trying to organize an evening activity, we used our break time when we worked in the mall to visit all our friends and tell them the plan. When we got off work, we met everyone at the predetermined location. Sometimes we just went to our local “home” bar to meet up before heading to a different place.
I often wonder how we ever got along without cellphones to communicate. Then I remembered. We improvised and used our brains. And in the rare instance where something came up, and we had to change our plans, we left word at the bar for anyone who showed up late.
Sometimes, we just made a phone call.
Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a Press Club of Long Island award-winning columnist (2018, 2020) and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.