The hours after 10 p.m. are reserved in my house for urgent phone calls only, so when my cell phone rang at 10:30 p.m. the other night it gave me a start.
It was my 17-year-old daughter. “Hi mom.”
“Um, hi, honey, why are you calling me?” I should mention that my daughter, at least the last time I saw her, was on her way to bed, which would be upstairs from where I was sitting.
“Mom, what does a W-2 mean?”
“Well, it’s a document your work gives you at the end of the year to show how much money you made and how much you paid in taxes.” pause... “Why?”
See, my daughter doesn’t have a W-2, she doesn’t even have a job. What would generate this burning question at this time of night, pressing enough to call me from her room, is still anyone’s guess. “I was just wondering,” she said.
“Oh, okay. Well goodnight honey.”
I hung up with the furrowed brow of a woman puzzled by a new level of strangeness in child rearing. The question was weird, but so was being telephoned from another room to ask it.
When I was a teen I would have got my butt out of bed and plodded down the stairs to ask my parents something, but if I was going to go all that way, it had better be good.
Then again, when I was a teen, a cell phone wasn’t even something I harbored an imagination wild enough to dream about, and those of you my age and older know exactly what I’m saying. If you told me back then my kids and I would each have our own phone numbers someday and we could carry our phones in our pockets, I would have laughed in your face and walked away thinking you were crazy.
Of course, the phone of my teens was a party line shared with neighbors up and down the road - two rings for our house, three for Grandma’s, and so on. IF I was ever fortunate enough to get on the phone and spin that big fat rotary dial (an excruciating exercise in patience), any conversation that ensued was definitely being eavesdropped on by someone, probably that lady Grace who lived down the hill.
Cell phones today indulge us in ways too countless to mention, with every person we’ve ever known and the answer to every question we’ve ever had at our fingertips.
It is, in the name of connectedness and knowledge, a very good thing. In the name of time management and interpersonal communication, maybe not so much.
In fact, I’m afraid it will turn us eventually into a species of atrophied mutes, starting with my daughters.
One texted me from across the living room and asked me to change the TV channel.
I get texted from the bathroom routinely asking for toilet paper or a towel.
I got a Facebook message once from down the couch asking me what was for dinner.
I posted one morning on Facebook that my toaster had gone haywire and was setting stuff on fire. Moments later my daughters chimed in from their own Facebook accounts:
“Yeah thanks for burning my BAGEL,” one wrote.
“NO BREAKFAST FOR THE PORTERS,” the other grouched.
Sigh. Girls, if you don’t want to walk your little legs down the stairs and say it to my FACE then you should probably not say it to 250 of my friends instead.
There is one electronic exchange that strikes at the heart of my worst fear, which, from their bedrooms at night, is, “can u bring me a drink of water?”
“NOOOOOO,” I shriek up the stair well. “YOU GET UP AND WALK YOUR LEGS DOWN THE HALL AND GET IT YOURSELF!”
To my daughters this reaction probably seems like mommy went off the deep end, and maybe so. But seriously, it is where I draw the line on normal instead of us being the Jetsons and me being that freakish robotic maid, Rosie.
I want my family, me included, to enjoy the benefits of technology without becoming physically and communicatively neutered by it. To wit, we have cell phone-free times in my house, like the dinner table and when we are supposed to be sleeping.
Even so, someone who lives in my house and will remain unnamed logged more than 17,000 texts one month, prompting a full-scale phone intervention.
Sure, some of those texts were exchanged with me and her sister, just not the other 16,950 of them.
We’re getting that figure to a much more reasonable level, but the fact is our lives are intertwined with technology that moves much faster from one room to the next than our legs will, and the temptation is strong to use it. At the end of the day I suppose sometimes communicating that way is better than not communicating at all.
But I hope the next time my daughter and I are talking about W-2s on the phone at 10:30 p.m. it’s because she’s got one in her hand, and if that’s the case, I really don’t care what time it is.