We call the magical device we have in our pockets a “phone”, but we really should call it a “communicator” as they did in the sci-fi movies not so long ago. Amazing advances in technology in the last few years have turned the simple “phone” (which was amazing enough in its day) into a fully portable, multi-platform, multimedia communications device that gives us the ability to interact in real time in myriad ways with anyone anywhere in the world and, if all else fails, actually speak to them (although thankfully that can be avoided most of the time).
The word “phone” is an abbreviation of the word “telephone” and the word “telephone” is made up of two Greek words, tēle, meaning “far”, and phōnē meaning “voice”. (No sonny, “phone” is not short for “smartphone” – at least it wasn’t originally.) So a telephone is a “farvoice”. “Darling, there’s a man on the farvoice who wants to know what time your flying machine lands. ” Sounds much less impressive and a lot more old fashioned when you say it in plain English doesn’t it?
It wasn’t so long ago that we were complaining about people talking on their “mobile phones” in public places . If somebody’s mobile phone rang in a restaurant for example the whole room would fall silent and the miscreant would suffer withering looks from the majority of fellow diners. Now when you look around most restaurants you will see people busily communicating via their “phones” with anyone who happens to demand their attention – anyone except the people they are physically with of course. In the early days we had to actually press a button and say “Hello?” when our mobiles demanded our attention. Now we just type furiously with our thumbs and say “Uh huh…” while pretending we are still listening to the people we are with. There was a time when if you left your house or place of work it meant you were totally out of touch with everyone. If you wanted to be contactable you had to tell people where you were going and how long you would be there, then give them the phone number and actually stick to the plan, because if you didn’t your house could catch fire and you wouldn’t find out about it until you got home.
All new forms of technology are resisted by the people who grew up with the previous forms. I often imagine 60 year-old cavemen sitting round a new-fangled “fire”, looking at it cautiously and talking about how dangerous and unnecessary this new form of heat and light was. They had survived without it for generations so why did they need it now? Of course the young cavegeeks were thinking “Hmmm… what else can we do with this?” When the first young cavenerd used a charred stick to make marks on a rock and started developing “writing” to record ideas, events and stories, the old folk no doubt wanted to know why he couldn’t stop wasting his time and just remember things like everyone else. When the automobile was first invented I’m sure it was looked upon with scorn by unimpressed elders of the day because horses were already noisy and dirty enough. And when radio came along early in the 20th century I am sure senior citizens despaired of the youngsters who were glued to it listening to nonsense for as long as the batteries lasted and urged them to get back to reading books before their brains turned to mush.
I remember wondering how a fax machine could work. I remember when a wireless phone with an answering machine built in was amazing. I remember saying I would never have a mobile phone because I didn’t need one. I remember saying I don’t need a computer. I remember saying I will never get a smartphone because I don’t need to receive my emails real time. I also remember black and white TVs without remote controls. Time rolls on and technology advances and there is nothing we can do about it. We don’t need these new gadgets until we have them, and once we have them we can’t live without them. The only possible issue I see is the decline of social skills. People just don’t talk to each other any more. So log off right now, go out into the street and strike up a conversation with the first stranger you happen upon. The internet eh? Who needs it?