In the landline world of South Bend, Indiana in the late 1960s, there was a phone number shared around Adams High called “the Hot Line”. You called and reached a busy signal, but behind it, distantly, you could hear teens talking.
Rumor had it this always-busy phone number serviced a circuit of households for the Labyrinthine Phone Company (only one back then) and was left on busy when not needed by its repairmen, so home phones on the circuit could hear each other. Sometimes there would be many voices trying to link up, sometimes just one lonely voice reciting his home number like an SOS. Sometimes the voices were clear enough that you could hold an actual conversation, but usually they sounded far away, and you could only try to exchange numbers. I recall the staccato of speaking each word timed between the beeps. If you were lucky, you captured the phone number of an interested party, and anything could happen next, or so my friends said. If you weren’t lucky, the line was depressingly empty, and so you tried again another time.
One school night I snuck downstairs and took the desk phone under cover of the dining room table, and dialed the Hot Line. I couldn’t do more than whisper heavily (innocently of course), but I did end up having an actual though rather pointless conversation with a boy named (impossibly!) Paul. Then my mother picked up the extension and my cover was blown, and I was grounded from all phone calls for two weeks.
This primitive disconnection is unfathomable to today’s teens who tweet and text incessantly, even to people in the same room. Potential romantic partners around the world are easily encountered through social media, chat rooms, even YouTube videos (though how my Hot Line differs from their Tinder is merely a matter of technology). I have to keep all this in mind as I wander around the internet and realize that it’s never about me anymore. Netflix asks if I’d like to share my viewing habits with my Facebook friends, and my reaction is, hell no. Why should anyone care what I watch? But if I were still a teenager, I suppose I would want to know everything, avidly seeking out the mutual obsessions shared between this year’s BFFs. Today’s texts echo the notes I passed between classes (though mine were properly spelled and in complete sentences for the most part).
Vine? Twitter? Tumblr, Reddit, Instagram? Every website, every page wants content and commitment. I think, Who has time for this?, then I remember it’s not my technology and no longer my world. The incessant connectivity, with friends announcing changes of location as they go through an average day and photographing meals to show each other, it just feels … insane. But that’s because I’m old. On reflection, I actually enjoy no longer having to deal with the minutia of insecurity (not to mention busy signals) now that I’ve reached the stage of life where you simply do what you like and be who you turned out to be.