The Worldwide Party Line

I was driving back from visiting my mother – she works on weekends at the Days Inn – and heard a Hank Williams song, “Mind Your Own Business,” on Sirius XM.

The woman on my party line’s a nosy thing / She picks up her receiver when she knows it’s my ring …

I remember party lines. When I was in grade school, a friend of mine had a “party line,” which meant it was shared with others. Nowadays, it’s hard to believe there was ever such a thing. You’d pick up the receiver to call home or something, and you’d hear a conversation between Mabel and Madge, talking about their casseroles or something.

That little snippet from Hank got me thinking about how things that used to be important aren’t anymore. For instance, yesterday the phone book arrived in the mail. It seems to me that most people don’t use it. They look up numbers on the Internet or ask Siri to look up numbers on their iPhones. Sometimes I run into an old acquaintance, and he (she) tells me he (she) doesn’t know how to get in touch with me.

“Well, I’m in the book,” I say, and he (she) looks at me with an expression that says “duh,” as if being listed in the phone book is irrelevant.

There’s no reason to wear a watch. A more accurate time is readily available on the phone and in the laptop, not to mention several other apparatuses conveniently nearby. I just don’t feel right without a watch on, and invariably I look at my watch, and if I don’t have my watch, I somehow don’t think about checking the cell until I have my own “duh” moment.

(I just finished a book that had a great observation on laziness. The main character got so sedentary that he didn’t move enough to keep his self-winding watch going. Remember self-winding watches? The book was written in the 1990s.)

Two of my three vehicles have manual transmissions. Shifting gears was always easy to me, I think, because I grew up driving tractors on the farm. It’s amazing how many people can’t “drive a stick.” I actually prefer it. To me, with an automatic transmission, it’s more like you’re guiding a car than driving it. I get better gas mileage shifting gears, and the only time it’s nettlesome is when I’m stuck in traffic, at which point that clutch pedal works my leg to death. It’s nothing major, though, just a little crampiness after a while.

I guess I’m kind of retro. (Uh, ya think?) I don’t have a dishwasher. My microwave is approximately 20 years old. I have ice trays in my freezer because I seldom see a fancy refrigerator that works properly at friends’ homes. I have an iPod 4, and when the iPod 5 came out, I had no unquenchable desire to stand in line all day to get “the latest thing.” Eventually, I’m satisfied I will be forced to upgrade my phone because important functions will be rendered obsolete by continuing changes in technology. When I drop by the “wireless store,” (What? No electricity?) the person behind the desk will chuckle (“Oh, you’ve still got that thing?!”) at a phone that is already two years old. The teen-ager in the McDonald’s drive-through will have her car repossessed because she blew her whole paycheck on the rapidly accelerating state of every conceivable art and quite a few crafts, as well.

No one ever fixes anything. It doesn’t matter what it is. You take it to the “big-box” store (local businesses are being forced out, thus making any kind of repair an exercise in red tape) and they invariably tell you it will cost less to buy “a new one” than fix the current model. This can’t be good for, I don’t know, the planet, the preservation of natural resources, or even the virtues of modern man. Consumption has become a religion of its own.

I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into both Facebook and Twitter, both of which I now enjoy even as I begrudge them the time they sap away from other pursuits. They are pleasures of the guilty variety. Useful? Yes. Necessary for the writer seeking exposure for his words? Yes. Contributing to the decline of civilization? Yes. We now live in a world in which we have no idea who lives next door but carry on imaginary romances with men posing as women on the other end of the country. (Not me, mind you, but Manti Te’o and others less famous but just as embarrassed.)

I think one of the reason sports often seem boring to fans is that they don’t really pay attention. They half watch while tweeting. I’m guilty of it, too. Rather than judging the ballgame or the race on its own merits, they end up applying the standards set by similarly impatient fans on social-media feeds.

Not too long ago, on Twitter, a “follower” insisted on attacking me based on his contention that I didn’t have the guts to criticize NASCAR, which is one of the last raps I ever expected to have hung on me after 20 controversial years calling the races the way I saw them without being overly concerned at what the high and mighty thought. What I finally figured out was that the fellow never read my stories. He didn’t click on links but just read the blurbs (tweets, posts) designed to whet the appetites of readers. He didn’t even deny it when I suggested that he didn’t have a very good perspective of my writing because he read very little of it.

Eventually, after a stream of insults, he became the only person I have ever blocked on Twitter. I know of only one person who has ever blocked me.

I think it contributes to the great anger abundantly obvious in society. Most people just read what they want to hear, and precious little of that. Naturally, they get angry when the world fails to conform to their narrow definitions of it. They pass along lies as fact, and facts as opinion, and opinion as facts, claiming the opinions are theirs when it’s really Xeroxed (another anachronism) in their mind from some instrument of propaganda.

We’ve come full circle. Now we all live on worldwide party lines.

About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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7 Responses to The Worldwide Party Line

  1. Judy Geri13Fan says:

    LMAO Full circle, indeed!! I’m somewhere in between relic & technogeek. I remember party lines & also giving my phone number using letters! (DE2-5605 was my favorite aunt’s number, she passed near 2 decades ago.)

    I miss my stick beyond belief but rely on my dishwasher & microwave, they are environmentally more efficient (yes, I worry about my carbon footprint, recycled before most knew what it was & remember when the term was “ecologically”).

    I loathe fb, luckily I do not “need” it; I love Twitter, tho I hold it somewhat responsible for the additional decline of grammar & spelling. (I also credit social media for increasing my gullibility shield.)

    I like my cell telling time as I have never found a watch to be comfortable to wear but enjoy being smarter than my phone. Stopped delivery of phone books as soon as I got my first computer, these days businesses come & go so fast it’s not worth killing a single tree to print one. However, I will never prefer a Kindle to a hardcover.

    I try to fix as much as I can (again, the carbon footprint). I sometimes lose the cost-effective battle with myself but take heart that I don’t fall victim to the temptation of the “next new best” thing.

    I agree with your next-to-last paragraph 100%. And pride yourself you used “Xeroxed” instead of “mimeographed.” 🙂

  2. half of me is fascinated with technology.. the other half of me would rather run back roads listening to old country tunes on a scratchy AM radio in a Fargo pickup.. which leaves me not only somewhat conflicted but behind the latest curve with no chance of ever catching up… I confess to using the 16 year old neighbor down the street as tech support….

  3. rick says:

    Your reference to laziness reminded me of something a farmer friend told me the other day. He said people seem to forget that stewardship, which is big to farmers who try to leave their land better than they found it, also applies to your time, and it’s not smart to squander it.

  4. Sal says:

    I remember having a party line, and the first TV in our neighborhood. So far I have a cell phone that ONLY makes calls and nothing else…I find nothing attractive in being at others beck and call 24/7. I’m a part time barely interested user of Facebook ,and have found no good use for Twitter. I find much of the new technology an invasion of privacy that I resent. And I’m horrified at all the new technology in new cars that seems invented to take even more attention from drivers off the road and watching a screed instead. And I still drive a stick shift. I see high school kids in the halls texting each other instead of speaking face-to-face. how can you know what someone means without seeing them in person? I guess I just don’t get it.

  5. Monte says:

    I think it may contribute to an increasingly impersonal approach to life. We tend to be trapped in our own little world, catering what we hear to what we want and divorcing ourselves from reality.

  6. Monte says:

    I think we forget, in a society driven by consumption, that conservation should be something on which we all should agree.

  7. Monte says:

    Ah, these are all issues to which we wrestle and eventually succumb. We can’t turn back the clock or let the ever-changing world pass us by.

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