It finally happened. I did’t want to see it, but Idid. I saw a young man at a gym locker room urinal with his penis in his right hand looking at his cell phone in his left hand. I have long admired the multitasking skills of younger men. I didn’t admire this display much. I didn’t look long enough to see if he was texting while urinating. If he was “sexting,” I definitely didn’t want to know. I was grateful that there was a another urinal available, because this gentleman was certainly taking his time doing his business.
For some reason this triggered some reflection on the changes that I have seen in telephone use over the years. My first telephone etiquette instruction came from my mother. She informed me that we had what was called a “party line.” This had nothing to do with making a “booty call’ or any other form of organizing a good time. It was related to the fact that we did not have a private phone line. We shared the phone line with other parties. These parties were all neighbors.
The way it worked was when you picked up the telephone to make a call there might be somebody else talking. When this happened you were supposed to hang up immediately and try again later. It was very wrong to listen in. If you just couldn’t resist listening, you needed to not breathe into the phone, as this could alert the party who was talking , that they were talking to more than the party they dialed. This I figured out on my own. Knowing how to listen to what I wasn’t supposed to be listening too, didn’t make me want to do it. I associated an interest in what the neighbors were saying as being an interest of women. In those days many women were not employed outside of their homes. Many women got bored. Besides taking Valium to pass the time, listening to other people talk helped past the time.
Such listening in, helped motivate more face to face conversations over backyard fences and in public places. It would be risky to call up a friend to tell them what you just learned by listening in to a neighbor’s phone conversation as that neighbor might be listening.
It was not a big deal to me, when we got a private telephone line. I just didn’t like talking on the phone, beyond asking a friend if they want to come outside to play. I hated it when I was summoned to the phone to wish a relative a happy birthday.
I only fell in love with the telephone, when I fell in love with the woman who would become my wife. I was 18 years old, she was 17. I met her when I moved away from home to go to college. I fell in love in October. I had a big problem saying goodbye to her when it was time to go home for the Thanksgiving Holiday.
As soon as I got home I called her up on the phone. Like most families who had a phone my family had only one. It was connected to a short wire that came out of the wall. The thing you spoke into and listened from was connected to the base of the telephone with a coiled cable, that only stretched so far. You were lucky if your household was located behind a door you could close to have a private conversation. I wasn’t so lucky. I had to wait until my household was asleep.
My parents learned about just how much in love I was, when they got the phone bill. They let me know that they were happy for me, but at the same time disappointed that I didn’t have a job to pay for the cost of separation that was making my heart grow fonder.
In those days the only unlimited phone minute program was to have a wealthy family. Knowing that every tick of the clock, while expressing the many reasons why I was in love was costing money, limited how high I could go in counting the ways. It put a cap on expressing how horny I was too. Often the foolishness of having the same old arguments over and over again was told in dollars and cents.
If I could have imagined a cordless, unlimited data sending device then, I would have imagined that it would exist in a culture of lovers who spent hours and days talking when distance kept them apart. Who could have imagined texting, Tweeting and emojis. Who could have imagined seeing that guy at the locker room urinal.
I read somewhere that psychotherapists are encountering more and more clients who would prefer email counseling over face-to-face approaches. I don’t think anyone sits in a chair while their client lays on a couch anymore. Clients who want email counseling often want to edit what they tell a therapist before clicking on a send button. Furthermore, they want the therapist to ponder and edit the most helpful reply, before replying.
Many men don’t think about the nature of face-to-face conversation much. They often believe that it just happens. Something is said, something is said in response and it goes back and forth like that until it is time to say goodbye.
It is not that simple. What actually happens is that somebody says something and then the listener decides what part of all that was just said will be responded to and how. Often the initial conversation starter and responder don’t think about what they are going to say. If they do, it is seldom said the way it was thought.
Most conversations follow narrowly define socially acceptable scripts. If a man departs from one of these scripts he runs the risk of being considered mentally ill or intoxicated. What is socially acceptable between two parties may have quite a wide range, a range that is tested by rapid back and forth comments.
Con artists do much of their conning by controlling the pace of the conversation. They focus on keeping their contribution fast and furious and the responses of those they wish to con, brief. This is more difficult to do by text. Many men associate face-to-face conversation as putting them at risk of being suckered.
There are other risks. A man might say something that is politically incorrect, something that they wouldn’t have said if they had remembered that the person they are talking to was depressed or anxious or guilt ridden, with no ability to edit. The fear of not being able to unsay what was just said can be intense. Yet it can be very worth the risk.
Long face-to-face conversations (or the shoulder to shoulder conversations that many men prefer), allow for rapid sincere apologies, forgiveness and subject changes. When saying something “deep” is responded to favorably, the conversation can quickly go deeper still. If it goes too deep, too fast, it is easy to hit the brakes.
There is a great deal to appreciate when taking a piss to stay focused on taking a piss. The feeling of relief and flow can be sublime. Why mess that up with trying to do something else at the same time? And why restrict the flow of conversation due to fear of saying the wrong thing?
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