Why do kids always think their life will be so much better once they grow up? Or…do kids still think that? I often find myself observing that kids’ lives today are already so much like those of their parents, there’s really no point in growing up at all. I’m frequently stunned by what to me look like toddlers (but really, they must be at least thirteen or fourteen years old), who are going out on dates, using very expensive cell phones, and dressing up in clothes I still think are a bit risqué even for a thirty year old. I’m beginning to think that if I were a child of, say, eight today, I wouldn’t want to grow up, ever. At eight, I would already have all the perks of adult life-Internet, cell phone, Facebook friends, etc.-without the bothersome need to get a job and pay those incessant and very annoying bills. I have a feeling that if I were eight again, today, my life would be absolutely perfect.
My actual life at eight was far from perfect. For this I blame my parents, of course, for having me so early in their marriage. If only they’d waited a decade, or two, and had me in the mid or late 1990s, things would’ve worked out so much better for me. As it was, when I was eight I had no Internet, no cell phone, no Facebook. All I had was this ugly red plastic toy phone, which at some point, before it was passed down to me from an older cousin, actually (supposedly) worked like a real phone. I don’t know how it could have. It had no cable, no battery, no connection to the outside world of any kind. It was, literally, a badly made piece of plastic vaguely resembling the shape of a telephone. Do I have to say that I hated this thing? I did. I hated it with a passion of a thousand thunderstorms. I often, in fact, tried to destroy it by dropping it from the second floor of our house, hoping it would smash into at least a million tiny pieces that could never again be put back together. To my infinite sadness, and boundless anger, this toy was made by Beelzebub himself and refused to break or crack even just a little bit. It was badly made, but out of the toughest plastic ever produced by Chinese hands (or machines).
Luckily, I had a cousin who was capable of splitting an atom with his bare hands, if you properly coaxed him with the magic words “You loser, you can’t do it!” Say these words to him, sit back, and watch him accomplish the impossible task. After months of failed attempts to destroy the plastic telephone, I wisely decided to leave it up to him. I told him that I had tried to break open this toy several times in order to repair the mechanism inside. Remember, this was supposed to be a working telephone. If I couldn’t do it, I said, he surely couldn’t either. He immediately set to work, of course. I don’t know what methods he eventually employed, or how many bloody fingers he ended up having to bandage by the end of that day. But he did manage to break the damn thing. Not into a million pieces, as I’d hoped, not even into hundreds. I think in the end my father’s sledge hammer did the trick, breaking the red devil into a mere dozen bits of jagged plastic.
No sooner was this evil toy out of my life, and already I wished I hadn’t so tirelessly worked on its destruction. I needed something to play with. That year the trend among my friends was a game which involved reenacting our parents’ lives at work. Little did we know that cubicle jobs were patiently waiting for us in the future. If we’d known how our lives would eventually turn out, we wouldn’t have so enthusiastically set up little cubicles in our bedrooms, where we pretended to be working hard on imaginary projects using only old typewriters and toy telephones. I don’t know why this game was so much fun back then. Actually working a job in a cubicle, with nothing but a telephone and a computer screen for company all day long, is not fun at all. That is experience speaking.
At some point my parents let me play with one of our old real phones, one of those ancient bulky things from the era of rotary dials. I believe this phone was red, just like my old toy, but I actually liked it because it was big, heavy, and made a splendid sound whenever you turned the finger-wheel. This also meant that, in a game of cubicles where the status of each player depended on the quality of the toy equipment used, I could be the boss with the biggest office space. In real life, this game is played much differently and with many complex rules I didn’t know about when I was a kid. Sadly, having a large red rotary phone no longer makes me qualified to be anyone’s boss.
I have to say that the red rotary was the last phone I ever truly liked. And I liked it because it was a fake thing, a toy totally and completely disconnected from the outside world. It could no longer make or receive any real calls, other than the ones I invented in my head. And those calls were the best. I remember I once had an hour-long conversation with the entire cast of “Beverly Hills, 90210.” I think I actually dialed the number 90210, and wouldn’t you know it, Brenda Walsh picked up. This was, of course, long before Brenda decided to pursue acting in London. I tried so hard to persuade her to stay.
My phones today are nowhere near as fun as that old red rotary beast. My home phone is…hm, where is it? I left it in the living room last year, so now it should be… It doesn’t really matter, nobody uses that thing anymore. Cell phones have truly made the old fixed phones obsolete. Though I really can’t say that my cell phone is getting much action either. It is an old model, passed down from a sibling (yes, I still do get everything passed down to me from my relatives). It is fairly small (from the cell phone epoch of “small, smaller, smallest”), with a keyboard that slides out, sort of, having been dropped one hundred times too many. One of its most endearing characteristics is how, very early every Sunday morning, when I’d like to sleep just an hour longer than usual, the alarm goes off at 7:05 sharp and cannot be turned off by any conventional button-pressing methods. Only black magic, or dad’s old sledge hammer, can stop it from beeping the same old “Für Elise” tune over and over and over again.
On my cell phone you cannot watch TV. On my cell phone you cannot check your e-mail or Facebook messages. On my cell phone you cannot find your way if you happen to be unexpectedly lost in a small village in the south of France. On my cell phone you probably couldn’t even make a call lasting more than 30 seconds, my prepaid minutes having expired back in July. Is my cell phone my lifeline? No, not so much. It’s more like a familiar but utterly useless weight in my pocket.
I don’t get the cell phone obsession of today’s world. What happened to just not being available, when you’re not available? I like not being reachable to everyone I’ve ever met, every day, and every single second of every day. The phone, as a device that keeps us connected when and how we choose, is an excellent tool. And no doubt, we are more connected now than we’ve ever been before. A friend is almost always just a single touch of the screen away.
So why are so many of us so miserably alone?