© 2013 by B. L. Bierley
My children have been privileged to grow up in the age of technology. They have never lived in a world without cable television, computer internet searches or any number of reliable conveniences that many of us depend on as if we have no idea there is any other way to live. But the two of them are as different as night and day in their areas of interest where technology is concerned.
My kids know more about technology than I do about any subject I studied in college. My daughter has been a society diva her entire life from the first day of preschool through the first social network I allowed her to join. There isn’t a social media in which she isn’t savvy. She had to help me set up my Twitter Account so that my fans (all 20 of them) could keep up with my tweets and daily sharing of my life.
My son is able to find any obscure game or bit of information about an existing obscure game that exists out there in the internet ether. But there is a hurdle with Ziggy that is alarming when it comes to one type of technology in particular. Ziggy cannot use a cellular phone.
“Have I Reached the Party to Whom I am Speaking?”
Just as Lily Tomlin used to make us laugh with her skits about the telephone operator, Ziggy has become a recent source of comedic fodder in his attempt to join in the rite of passage that is his first cellular phone. He is slowly getting the hang of sending and receiving text messages. However, it’s the actual calls that trip him up.
I love Ziggy very, very much. He’s my youngest child. Ziggy is a loving, sensitive young man. But unless he has a genuine interest in something, he would just as soon ignore it and hope it goes away. This is especially evident with his cell phone.
For years I have tried to introduce him to the convenience of the telephone. I have tried to get him to talk to people on the phone for various reasons. For example, I always tried to get him to say hello or receive calls from his grandmother who lives three hours away, or to keep in touch with his more distant cousins who live six to ten hours in two different directions. Even if you told him the plan ahead of time, the moment the phone was pressed to his ear, Ziggy would get this vacant look on his face as though, for him, the idea of there being an actual person on the other end of the phone was the blackest of witchcraft.
What’s That New-Fangled Contraption?
Telephone usage has always been a mystery to Ziggy. I blame myself and his father and sometimes his sister for his lack of social skills. When DaVelma was little, the phone ringing would mean a mad dash for the nearest handset to keep little miss, “I’ll Get It” from beating you to the punch. But Ziggy never had the opportunity, even if he’d ever shown the slightest interest.
Ziggy has rarely been subjected to the ring of an actual phone. For the past two years, Cap and I rationalized that it would not be feasible to continue to carry a bill for a landline telephone any longer. We had no desire to speak to the dozens of telemarketers who would ring us up around the time we sat down to eat a meal or have a family conversation. So we dropped our home phone. Now when Ziggy should begin his social initiation into the pre-teen world of friends on the phone, he has to learn it cold on a complicated device that costs us thirty-five bucks a month to lay on the table and mock him.
I shouldn’t really be surprised. Neither Cap nor I are much for telephone usage either. We make calls, but usually in private because we’re either talking about things the kids shouldn’t hear about (like money issues or what they’re getting for birthdays or Christmas, or when I’m making an appointment for booster shots for example). Knowing how to use the phone is necessary for survival in the world these days, especially since it’s no longer the 1980’s and what we’re doing at the moment absolutely cannot wait to be read in a note in homeroom or be discussed casually next to the copier or water cooler at work.
A Boy’s First Time
When Santa brought Ziggy his first telephone, he was unimpressed. He opened the box and stared at it like he wasn’t sure if it was really a cell phone, or just something much cooler wrapped in a cell phone box. Santa’s elves had made sure to give the entire family Ziggy’s new phone number so that he could receive calls immediately that morning! But the exciting buzz of getting a call was lost on my clueless wunderkind.
Ziggy’s first attempt to answer a call was more like a caveman discovering fire.
The phone rang. Ziggy stared at it like it might bite him.
“Pick up the phone, Ziggy!” I nearly shouted at him after the third ring. He gingerly lifted the phone from the desk and looked at me. I motioned for him to press the green button to receive the call. He did and then looked at me for encouragement.
“Say hello. Say something!” I urged him.
Ziggy put the phone up in front of his mouth and said, ”Hello?” and then waited for a few seconds before staring up at me as if confused.
“I don’t hear anything, Mom,” he informed me.
“You need to hold it to your ear, son,” I sighed in frustration.
At this Ziggy put the phone gingerly to his ear as if hoping to receive a dispensation from the governor of Alabama saying he never had to use this device ever again.
As soon as he heard his grandmother speaking to him, he looked at me with a curious look again. Then he told me that the person on the phone wanted to know what he got for Christmas.
“Well, tell her,” I said, trying hard not to laugh or cry—it wasn’t clear to me what emotion might be called for at this point.
I nearly did cry when Ziggy moved the phone back in front of his mouth and began speaking into the phone as if it were a tin can with a string.
I palmed my face in defeat and just walked away to let DaVelma explain the process in more kid-friendly lingo.
Why Should It Matter?
In this techno-savvy age, I suppose I should be glad to have a kid who isn’t glued to an electronic device. But you should realize that this phone thing is the only piece of technology that actually trips up my little genius-geek. He can operate any device in our house better than I can. He has no problem programming the television to tape a show, he can use any of our gaming systems with ease, and he can use iPads and computers better than his dad or I will ever understand, and all with little or no training. But that simplest of devices, the lowly cell phone, is his Achilles Heel.
I for one credit this to his superior intelligence. Ziggy is clever and real. He likes people better than anything and will talk your ears off once he gets to know you. The idea of conversing with people he can’t see really doesn’t appeal to him. And I can’t blame him for that. I myself am better in person than on a phone. I think people get bored with me on the phone because I run on with no clear path (mostly because I can’t detect the boredom in their eyes through the phone lines).
The part that worries me the most is how Ziggy will react if he’s ever faced with an actual emergency. In today’s world a cell phone can be a life-line, a life-saving connection to help in a hurry. If he is getting off the bus and has forgotten his house key, he could call his dad or me to come home so he’s not locked out in the heat of an Alabama spring. If he’s at a friends’ house and wants to come home because he isn’t feeling well or feels uncomfortable or tired, he could send an SOS via text message. But if he refuses to learn, will he be at the mercy of a world with darkness lurking around every corner?
As his mother I naturally see danger in every seemingly innocent activity kids can partake of these days. With recent events in the media it’s no wonder we don’t lock our kids up at home and educate them ourselves like colleges do with online lessons. As a savvy mother, I want my kids to know it’s okay to yell if they even think they see danger or if anyone does anything that makes them uncomfortable, better to apologize for being foolish than be silent and have to face the possibility of regret.
So I will continue my pursuit of teaching Ziggy the importance of proper phone etiquette. I’ll make him learn the proper way to send and receive texts and make and answer calls. It’s for his own good, for my sanity and for the love of a boy who would gladly give a hug and tell someone whatever he wants to say face to face.