Cookie Schwaeber-Issan

Can You Talk?

It’s hard to imagine it these days, but back in the ’50s, a frequent occurrence was guests  unexpectedly showing up for a spontaneous visit right around dinner time. Today, such a thing is unheard of.  Not only unheard of, but it would be considered quite rude and inconsiderate to just pop in unannounced at the traditional mealtime hour.

This massive change in our culture is just one of many which has occurred over the past 60 + years, but one which really came more into focus with the advent of mobile phones. Unexpected relatives and close friends falling in on you may have required a creative food stretch, but it was a completely different story when your own childhood friends showed up at your door expecting you to come out and play.  That’s just the way it was!

Mothers didn’t call ahead of time to “arrange a playdate.”  Kids sort of figured that out on their own.  They were free, and all there was to occupy them was either TV or street games requiring a Spalding (soft, pink ball).  So the doorbell rang at all hours, and, consequently, kids were seldom home.

Suddenly, that setup began to change sometime between the ’80s and ’90s. Mothers got involved with the social interaction of their kids, and the once spontaneous, independent playtime became an organized date requiring an advance phone call and agreed upon arrangement.

For most kids, it has remained that way to this present day.  Probably one reason for that change was due to the many after-school activities, clubs and sports events which began to fill the lives of most children throughout the last 20 to 30 years. Gone are the days of idle spare time which occupied us in the form of street ballgames, bike riding or swimming in the pool of that one lucky kid who had one in their backyard.

While all this is certainly understandable, still another phenomenon sprouted from the ever-present extension of our lives – our mobile phones.  In the year 2021, it is totally acceptable, even expected, that that you precede a phone call, to someone, with a text, asking – “can you talk?”  Just this morning, I received such a text.  The individual who sent it to me obviously felt that it would be an act of “chutzpah” to just ring me up unannounced, so, in her attempt to be considerate and thoughtful, she checked to see if this was an opportune time.

It didn’t dawn on me, until a few hours later, that life didn’t used to be like this. The absurdity of feeling that you must first make sure that you will not be disturbing someone suddenly hit me.  As I began to ponder the enormously different cultural expectation, it actually made me a little sad.

Maybe it’s because we are still in the throes of this period of Covid when so many of us are experiencing a greater social isolation than ever before. Unless you’re employed and work in an office or are an in-school student, you could actually go days without seeing someone in person and having a good chat with them. I’m embarrassed to say that  most of my face-to-face interactions, at this point, are as a result of going to the supermarket or during my once a month manicure.

So, for many of us, an unexpected phone call, these days, might be a really welcomed intrusion into our otherwise very limited social exchange with each other.  In fact, there have been times when I’ve actually been tempted to engage a random phone salesperson in conversation!

It’s been said so often, in recent days, that we are social creatures, meant to interact with one another and mingle. Yet, we are being told to visit less, distance ourselves and think twice about meeting face-to-face with other people. What does that do? For one thing, I’ve heard many of my friends admit just how lonely and depressed they’ve been feeling. A number have also mentioned that they have experienced a lack of hope and the loss of the positive outlook which they once possessed. And it’s no wonder!

We all looked forward to weekly events which broke up the monotony of life — whether it was weddings, bar mitzvahs, holidays or just the weekly Friday night Shabbat family dinner.  Many of us also have family and friends abroad, and those trips, which are being discouraged, also filled us with great anticipation, happiness and excitement.

Sadly, so much of that social stimulation is gone, and not knowing when or if it will ever come back, is, in large part, taking away our joy of waking up in the morning, knowing that another day may pass when we don’t see a loving, familiar face.

In the midst of this kind of environment, perhaps, one of the antidotes for all of us would be to “just call” or “just visit” without even checking.  Maybe there was something to this idea of being spontaneous back in the ’50s – the time when no one checked first to see if they would be bothering you.

Families and friends were closer back then. Few people were depressed or self-involved, because they never seemed to be alone. Moms baked more, and maybe part of the reason was to be prepared with something to serve that unexpected visitor. As I remember, we always had cake, fruit or nuts to offer whoever stopped by, although, as memory serves me correctly, those who showed, up on the spur of the moment, always brought some goodies with them – whether it was ice-cream, a cake or chocolate covered cherries. Maybe it was their way of compensating for arriving without calling first (even though we did have telephones back then – although just the kind attached to a kitchen wall).

Checking with people before making a call, at this point in time, doesn’t seem to be a modern-day advancement with added benefit. It reminds me of the effort needed to carry on a chat conversation. What used to be a simple call has been replaced with an often confusing text message which takes double or triple the time to write, followed by multiple responses just to clarify what was meant. How much easier was it when we vocally transmitted our words through the phone? If you think about it, you may agree that, in some ways, we’ve actually gone backwards in time rather than forwards.

I’ve done my best to make a cogent argument as to why spontaneity is sorely needed these days, but you might still not be convinced. Checking in, via text, might still seem to be your preferred way of doing it, but if you’re one of my friends, reading this blog post, please know that you can ring me up whenever you want! I’ll be more than happy to stop what I’m doing and chat with you, because, “Yes, I can always talk!”

About the Author
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.
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