This really struck me in the immediate aftermath of the South Carolina flood. I have two friends – a couple – who live in Charleston. I called them to check on their situation and quickly realized that they almost never answer their home line.
I decided to call the husband in the couple, a gentleman who has been like a brother to me for more than thirty years, on his cell phone. We connected and everything was fine, including their house, and no one was hurt. We spoke for a while then said goodbye.
It was after we hung up that it struck me that I have not spoken with the wife in the couple on the phone in years. Once upon a time I would call their house and, regardless of who answered, we would get into a conversation, catch up on family, friends, etc. It might be that if I was calling the husband and the wife answered, that we might start discussing something that was going on in her life. We have all been that close.
Yet, what has happened over time is that, as we all move towards near-total reliance on personal cell phones, I have found that I speak less and less with her, to the point of being disconnected from the family. The more I thought about it, I realized that this was not the case with this family alone.
It was an increasing tendency for many families.
Once upon a time, you could find out much more about a family depending on who answered the phone. There might have been pieces of information that you would never have stumbled across had it not been a spouse, partner or child who answered the phone rather than the person you were specifically calling. I am not talking about being nosey. I am talking about better understanding people, including friends.
Some of you are saying that I should just call the wife in the couple. But that misses the point. Not all relationships are the same, and this is particularly the case between men and women. It is one thing for the wife to answer a phone and speak with a male friend. It is another thing for that male friend to call the wife directly. I am not passing judgment or saying what should be; I am saying what is.
Our worlds are narrowing. In the case I mentioned, rather than my becoming more and more connected with the family, my bond with the husband remains stable or intensifies, whereas my connection with the rest of the family dwindles. This seems to speak to a larger social problem as we turn in on ourselves, frequently reading or watching programs that our respective ‘niche market’ is interested in, and forgetting that we are on a planet of billions with myriad interests and experiences from which we can learn.
The family phone may be on its way out. The question we have to ask is whether that is representative of a broader deterioration in our own ability –and willingness –to learn, and equally, to strengthen bonds.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of “The Global African” on Telesur-English. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.