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End Of Tether | The Sheila Divine Listen Live

Remember when people actually talked?

By Beverly Beckham
Globe Columnist / October 23, 2011

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Messages come by e-mail these days. Someone is born, dies, gets a new dog, moves, is given a surprise helicopter ride over Newport for her 40th birthday, and you don’t hear about these things by way of a human voice.

You find out in a text, or by e-mail or on Facebook when you stumble across a picture of someone you gave birth to smiling with her husband, a shiny red helicopter in the background, “My very brave moment,’’ the surprising words beneath.

Two-and-a-half years ago, when someone else I gave birth to texted me that his son had been born, I thought he picked a strange way to announce so important an event.

“But it was the middle of the night, Ma,’’ he said when I finally did speak to him. “I didn’t want to wake you.’’

These are some of the reasons we give for not calling each other. “I didn’t want to wake you.’’ “I didn’t want to bother you.’’ “The phone is so annoying.’’ “I talk all day. I don’t want to talk at night.’’

Alexander Graham Bell’s greatly lauded invention, once the preferred method of communicating, is now an intrusion. It rings and everyone groans.

“I’m not answering it.’’

“Don’t pick it up. Just see who it is.’’

Back in the day, when a telephone rang there was an actual race for it. It was like hearing the ice cream man a few blocks away. From all corners of the house came a chorus of “I’ll get it!’’ as everyone stopped cooking or studying or curling her hair or reading the newspaper and ran. Answering the phone, discovering who was calling, hoping it was for you? This never got old.

This was in the telephone’s heyday when most phones were black and simple to use, when all you had to do was pick it up and dial. It had its own table then, too, which was a kind of desk where a person could sit and talk away.

We never had one, but my best friend Rose did. It sat to the right of her front door. Our old black phone lived on a kitchen counter to the left of the stove. We had to stand to talk. But stand and talk we did.

Then came Princess phones and touch-tone phones and phones with long extension cords so you could walk around and talk. Plus pay phones were everywhere. For a dime, you could reach out and touch someone for three whole minutes. Everyone was talking.

Who knew it would all go south?

I phone my daughter’s house but she doesn’t answer. I don’t leave a message because she doesn’t check her messages.

“Don’t call me, Mom. Just text me,’’ she says. “It’s easier.’’

It’s a totally different world.

Long, meandering, getting-to-know-you teenage conversations? Do they happen anymore? My father used to lean against my bedroom door and say, “You spent all day at school with these people. What could you possibly have left to talk about?’’

Nothing and everything. But that’s how friendships were made.

Today they’re made by texting and e-mailing and Tweeting and sharing on Facebook, all of which work, apparently. But pecking words out one letter at a time is not just time-consuming. It’s also like the morning commute, full of stops and starts, getting every red light, with no opportunity to take off, to press down on the accelerator and just go.

Words are sent. Words are read. And words are returned. This isn’t conversation. This is Morse code.

Texting some things makes sense. “What time is soccer?’’ “Can you stop and get milk?’’ “What do you think of this dress?’’ (I love being able to snap a picture and ask someone with better taste than I have - and that would be just about anyone - “What do you think?’’)

But having an actual back-and-forth conversation? Getting to know you, getting to know all about you?

Hand me the phone, please!

After last week’s column about the effort to get a power wheelchair for Matthew Davidopoulos, a 2 1/2 year-old Lowell boy who has spinal muscular atrophy, many people wrote in and offered to donate. But MassHealth reversed its decision and has agreed to pay the portion not covered by the family’s primary insurance.

Beverly Beckham can be reached at