“Has anyone seen my phone?”
It’s a common question, and at some point, most of us have probably asked it while frantically retracing our steps through the house as we leave for work or as we gather bags, snacks and family members for a weekend getaway.
But as I think about it, I find it interesting that prior to the mid 1990s, it’s possible no one ever asked that question … because there was no need to because prior to that time, phones didn’t move. They were on the end table in the dining room, bolted to the wall in our dorms, sitting inertly on our work desks and in booths or on large, guarded posts in public places.
And while none of what I’ve written so far matters in the least – a fact not lost on you, no doubt – I find it interesting. I find it interesting that it’s possible that five common words may never have been arranged in a specific manner and spoken to another within my lifetime.
I’ll grant you, the chances of this question being only 25 to 30 years old are rare. I mean, it’s quite possible Alexander Graham Bell posed this question to a group of visitors or fellow eggheads back in the 1870s, but in a much different context. However, if he did ever say, “Has anyone seen my phone?” it certainly wouldn’t have been because he misplaced it. After all, it wasn’t exactly “mobile” at that point in time, was it? I’m guessing it probably took up the better part of a large table (if not a small room), and had enough metal, wires and components to make it difficult to lose unless a tornado relocated the building in which it was housed.
No, if Bell ever asked this question, it would have been because he was introducing it as a new, exciting, “potentially world-changing” invention, not because he misplaced it. (And back then, who really thought this cumbersome, crackly communications device would change the world? Preposterous!)
To further my point, was it even called a “telephone” in Bell’s days? At that point, it was probably called something like “Bell’s amplified audio messaging acquisition and distribution machine” (I’m spit balling, but you get the picture).
Now, if you’re a member of my vintage (post-Bell/pre-mobile phone; it’s a large demographic, a time when the world progressed from black-and-white to living color), you might remember some of the iterations of the telephone that happened in our lifetime. We progressed from the black rotary-dialed model (which continues to baffle today’s youth should they ever stumble across it) to various touch-tone models, trimlines and something called a “princess phone.”
Now, if you were one of the lucky ones to fetch a cool, streamlined talking device (in hip, trendy colors like lemon yellow, avocado green or powder blue), I could see how someone – excited about their new phone – might gather one’s dinner party guests around a small side table in the den and ask (as more of a boasty announcement than a question, “Has anyone seen my phone?” This question would of course be answered not with words, but gasps of awe (and some envy), followed by people touching it and putting the sleek receiver to their ears and the like before returning to their cigarettes, brandy and Charades. The same argument could be made for any inventions or new developments (“Where are my cars keys?” “Did you make that Bitcoin purchase today?” “May I have an Uncrustable?”)
Anyway, I think it’s interesting how stuff that becomes so commonplace – like a sentence or a reference to and everyday object – was once said for the first time.
Speaking of interesting (this is a “doubly” poor segue because not only is it traditionally thought of as the worst type of segue, the “Speaking of …” kind, it also assumes you thought the previous segment was interesting), I picked up a 1980 quarter on Saturday. In a rare move where I paid cash for something, it came as part of my change (28 cents, to be exact).
As a kid, I collected coins, and I loved it when I found an “old” coin, which for me usually meant 20 years or more. Then, that was old to me. For some context, my coin collecting days spanned from 1972 to 1977 (give or take), so I was always on the lookout for anything older than about 1955, and when I got a coin of such vintage, I was ecstatic. (OK, “ecstatic” oversells it; I was excited … kind of … I mean, this is what we did prior to video games and mobile phones, when we weren’t collecting beers cans or waiting for next week’s episode of Kojak, so there’s your context.)
Back to Saturday. Now, as a former coin collector (we’re a rare, fascinating and dying subculture so someone should do the documentary now before we’re gone from the earth), I still examine all coins that cross my palm, and Saturday was no exception. As I left the convenience store, loose change in hand, I noticed the quarter to be dirty and immediately gave it a closer look. Flipping it to from tails to heads, I noticed the date read “1980.”
“Huh,” I thought to myself as I stuffed the change in my pocket and went on with my day. Later, that quarter popped back into my head, and it made me think, like the question, “Has anyone seen my phone?” made me think days prior, but in a different way, if you get my drift. That 1980 quarter is 42 years old, and if we do a little math, it’s the equivalent of my 10-year-old self coming across a 1923 coin.
When I was 10, if you told me I’d find a 1923 coin -- one minted in the Harding/Coolidge presidential transition -- in a day when telephones had separate ear and mouth pieces and you made a call by contacting someone colloquially known as “the operator” – I would have jumped out of my skin. (OK, now I’m seeing where “ecstatic” would have been more appropriate).
But Saturday? Nothing. No big deal. I was holding a quarter that had been in circulation and working every day since the Carter/Reagan transition (some kid’s “Harding/Coolidge” today).
So why wasn’t I ecstatic, jumping out of my skin, or even a little excited? I think it’s how our brains work. For example, in my mind, “oldies” music is, and always has been, defined as pop music that started in the 1950s and went through the ‘60s. And it remains that way, for me anyway. However, if you listen to the radio today, oldies span the ’80s and 90s, and they should, right?
But for me, that’s not the case. Because from my perspective, from where I stand in the timeline of history, those 30- to 40-year-old songs aren’t oldies. Just like that 1980 quarter doesn’t seem old to me. And just like a phone isn’t really a phone anymore. It’s a computer, a map and an address book. It’s entertainment and business. It’s no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity, something we can’t afford to misplace, even for a little while because we use it for everything, even to make purchases (so we don't need coins) and to listen to music (whether it's oldies, emo-pop, rap, jazz, etc.)
Do you think Bell had any idea his invention would have this kind of impact on the world?
Speaking of interesting … am I right?
© 2022 David R. Haznaw