Thursday, April 17, 2014

How bringing back the rotary phone could save the universe

Recently I had a conversation with a friend about how everything is instant these days. Instant contact, instant information, instant forums and so on.  Many things have changed since we were kids.  The big one that we were talking was the rotary phone.  The rotary phone, in hindsight, was a great filter.  The madder you were, the more likely you would have been to have your finger slip out of the finger hole. Often you would have to compose yourself in order to be able to dial, because it was sooooo frustrating to have your finger slip out, have to hang up and start again.  If there were a lot of 9s in the number you were calling it would take a long time to dial, you almost dreaded calling Coquitlam numbers because they were all 939.  Oh the wait for the dial to return to its starting point!!! I do concede that there were probably some epic family battles over the phone and who was using it and for how long.  I will also concede that for some people with OCD tendencies that the phone chord could get twisted up in a bad way and drive those people nuts.  It was not perfect but it added a lot of advantages.  Often trying to dial mad on a rotary would become so frusatrating that the anger would be directed towards the phone and at least momentarily distract us from what had enraged us in the first place.  Trying to use one of those phones when drunk, forget about it.

So how would the rotary phone save the universe?  It was like this automatic filter we had, a filter we often do not seem to have any more.  If you left a person's home or were out with some friends and you became upset you would have to wait until you got home to talk to them.  There was no phone just sitting in your pocket.  There was no instant message or texting possible.  There was no possibility of sending emails or posting a message through social media at 2pm when you were fuming or perhaps a little tipsy...  You had four choices:
1) wait until you got home to talk to the person
2) wait until you had a chance to see the person again and talk face to face
3) wait and decide if you wanted to do something about and maybe realize that it was not a big deal at all, or think about how you wanted to approach it.
4) Go back to where you were and talk to them directly, but you had to wait until you got back to where you were.
No matter what, you were forced to wait at least a little bit before initiating contact.

If you were to wait until you got home you would have to hope that somebody else was not on the phone, as we all shared the one phone in the house.  If you had a family member who liked to talk, you might have to wait a while, and often someone in the house would notice you were agitated and you would talk it out with that person and be able to sort of some of your thoughts and emotions.  If you did not have the phone number memorized you would have to go and search for the phone book, look up the number and then call it.  All of these elements bought time, time to think, time to calm down, time to be able to rationally think about what it was that upset you.

There are now apps that are designed to give us the filter that we used to have in place already.   Just look at how many apps there are for people to use to stop themselves from drunk dialing or drunk texting.  There are also ones that are there to stop from texting and driving.  It is almost as though we no longer have the inate ability to stop ourselves or control ourselves from immediately contacting someone.  When did everything in life become so important that it could not wait until you got home?

The ability and the created sense of need to vent immediately is having very harmful effects on relationships, personal or professional.  The fact that we are able to immediately contact someone when we are at our most irrational state of mind is not a good thing.  We need to train ourselves to take a moment and pause as we no longer have that filter.  Sending a message in the heat of anger, especially when it is not face to face or at least over the phone is incredibly harmful to relationships.

One of the things we may need to consider is trying to instil questions that our students need to think about before texting when they are upset:
1) Am  I in a state of mind to be talking to that person right now?
2) Why am I upset with them?
3) Who am I upset with?
4) Is there another reason that I may be upset?
5) Is there something that I may have done to create this situation?

These are all questions many people would normally be thinking about as they were heading home, or asking ourselves when going to bed.  Perhaps that these are also questions that we may discuss with someone who lives in the home with us.  Whatever it is that we do, we need a way to limit communicating in a non face-to-face way when upset.  I say bring back the rotary phone.

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