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Cell Phone for Christmas??

12/01/2016 20:28 ● Published by Sandy Kauten

My sixth-grade daughter, Wendy, has just produced her Christmas wish list. It reads like this: SMARTPHONE!!!!!

It reminds me of the time I was nearly drowned by a playful pal in a YMCA swimming pool. As he held me underwater, I had only one thing on my list, too: AIR!!!!! Of course, once I surfaced, other priorities reasserted themselves.

Right now, my priority is staying in touch with my loved ones. That’s why I’m glad her sisters have smartphones at college, and why I don’t want to get Wendy even a cheap flip phone. The big sisters phone home a couple times a week. The 20-year-old talks about her fears and ambitions, tells me funny stories and sometimes even asks my advice on friendships, ethics and semi-colons. For the 17-year-old, it’s more of a dutiful gesture, like she’s visiting a nursing home. I cherish that contact, too.

But if we got a phone for Wendy, we’d lose what little contact with her that we have.

Wendy is already on the house phone or Instant Messaging on the computer every possible moment – except for when she is in the bathroom. (She’s very delicate about that.) Even when she is WITH other kids, she and her visitors are phoning whomever is absent.

Most of her friends have smartphones. And to be without a mobile phone is a disadvantage, especially because kids don’t plan ahead anymore. They are like police radioing to each other during a high-speed chase. “Hi Justin; we’re on our way to the basketball game. Are you going? We’re two blocks from your house. Should Wendy’s dad pick you up? You’re getting a ride there later? OK, when you get there, call me so we can find you!”

A child with no cell phone can be like the Canada goose who does not get the invitation to join the V-formation and ends up summering in Phoenix while all her friends are splashing around in the refreshing lakes of Quebec.

On the other hand, a girl with a cell phone carries with her the instrument of her own torture when one of her “frenemies” feels the need to reach out and hurt someone – anytime, day or night.

That’s another thing. When I was a kid, a child who phoned late at night would be scolded by an angry adult. So I have the ingrained belief that it is immoral to telephone anyone after 10 p.m. But a cell phone hums at 3 a.m. and a child wakes up, pulls it out of her pajamas and chatters until dawn. That’s just wrong.

There’s no denying the practicality of cell phones. I was giving Wendy and her friend Bree a ride to some venue of pleasure or other, when Bree said, “Wendy, what is the deal with your hair?! It’s gone all you-know!” and she waved a hand in a corkscrew gesture.

Wendy replied, “Gimme your cell,” and with a practiced air, she turned on its camera, pointed it at herself and looked at the image while patting the stray foliage into place.

“In my day,” I told her, “if we wanted to see ourselves, we had to look into a pool of still water.”

And speaking of still pools of water, I find myself thinking of Henry David Thoreau, who spent a couple of uneventful years in the 1840s thinking deep thoughts at Walden Pond. To chat with someone, he would’ve had to hike a few miles into Concord, Mass. He couldn’t just pick up the phone and say, “How ‘bout those Sox?!” But that was OK because he was extremely unchatty. 

In fact, when Thoreau got word that a telegraph wire was being strung from Maine to Texas, he wrote in annoyance: “But Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”

He’s right. First, the guy in Maine would yell, “I’M IN MAINE!” Then he’d say, “Did you hear that Hank Thoreau has been talking trash about us? He is such a geek. I mean he lives at that pond, which would be such a great place to party. But he has like NO friends except for that other loser Ralph Waldo Emerson. I mean, they CALL themselves Transcendentalists, but if you ask me, they are POSER-dentalists. And popularity-wise the two of them are like two times zero.”

Certainly I’m being silly, but am I being unrealistic about the whole cell-phone thing? Let’s just wait and let Wendy decide for herself on Christmas morning – when she unwraps her new Kindle. (Just kidding.

Rick can be reached at rickepstein@yahoo.com

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