We were early adopters of email, and also of cellphones. Our first email account was through CompuServe, and our user name was a string of numbers that we didn’t even get to pick, so for me they were impossible to remember. My 32-year-old daughter Sabrina, however, can still recite that string of numbers, twenty-some years later. I could call her up in Spain right now and she would rattle them off for me. We were pioneers. When my now-40-year-old niece, the oldest of the next generation in my family, went off to Wellesley in 1995, she was given an email account by the college. My sister realized that she needed to get email so that she could communicate easily with her daughter, and she had no idea how to do it, so she turned to us for advice, because we were literally the only people she knew who had email. Of course, within a few years, everyone had it, which was a good thing because then we could all email each other.
Our first cellphones were enormous. I wish I had kept them, it would have been fun to take a picture of them for this story, but alas when someone was having a cellphone drive for battered women, I donated them. They were flip phones, with an antenna that you had to pull out when you were making or receiving a call. The featured image, courtesy of Google Images, is approximately what they looked like, but it doesn’t really show how bulky they were. You certainly couldn’t put one in your pocket. And the charges to use them were enormous too. Once for a family reunion we were caravaning from New York City up to the Catskills in several cars, and my husband and I were in different cars. My car was at a tollbooth, and I didn’t see his car, so I got worried and decided to call him and find out where he was. It turned out he was also at the tollbooth, just a few lanes away, but we had to pay roaming charges on both phones, as well as who knows what other fees, and it ended up being about a twenty dollar phone call.
We have been through many generations of cellphones and many different email accounts since then, and each time things improve. When we switched from dial-up internet to DSL, that was major, because before that I had to tell the kids to get off the computer any time I was expecting a phone call.
The next big leap was to smart phones, combining the two technologies and turning the phone into a computer in your pocket. I resisted the change for a long time, even after most of my friends and family had them, and now I have no idea why. I remember telling someone, when I was driving a long distance to meet her, “Don’t forget, I can’t access email on my phone, so if you need to get in touch with me you have to do it by text, not email.” Of course now we’ve come full circle, and even though my kids can see emails on their phones, they much prefer it when I text them.
Mostly, I embrace all this new technology. It does make life a lot easier. But what I don’t like is people looking at their phones even when they are with other people. I don’t allow phones at my dinner table, and the kids comply with that rule, although sometimes my husband violates it! When I was hanging out in Harvard Yard for my reunion, it was depressing to see students walking along the paths staring at their phones instead of looking around them. I’m sure it decreases the number of new people that they meet, because they aren’t available for real-life interactions, only virtual ones. And I also find it annoying that every time anyone states a fact in conversation, someone else whips out a phone to check on whether it is correct or not. I liked it better when we could think we knew things, and even be wrong with impunity, without being contradicted by Google!