The Alternative Phone Line


[ This posting acknowledges the Bethlehem Steel Corporation who made the wheels for the most of the railroad cars used in Montana in 1952. And their elders. This is a state government-mandated apology for something. ]

Well, that dated me, eh? And placed me in context too. You know know how old I am and where I came from. eh? I remember phone lines.

I also remember the Post Office – when it was a place you went to post letters and pick up parcels. Of course it is still that but nowadays you need to fight your way past the toys and books and office chairs and giant tins of sweets to get to the stamp sellers. I frequently fail. It is the teddy bears that scare me.

This post is occasioned by a friend who says she will quit using Facebook – for good reasons. She wonders if it distances her from people who would be better spoken to directly. She may be right in this, but equally she may be giving away a valuable communication resource.

In modern life we have a lot of choices about how we connect:

1. Email. Quick, until the mailer daemon returns your letter as undeliverable. Quick, until the recipient ignores your letter for a fortnight. As private as anything…anything that transits through Langley, Virginia, Moscow, Beijing and Google can be. As private as whispering your innermost thoughts into a bullhorn on the top of a church steeple. Shhhhh.

2. Postal mail. Slow, but sure. Like the snails that crawl into your mail box in wnter and eat your letters. Secure because no-one really bothers to steam open your letters any more. They really don’t care.

3. Facebook message. As quick as No.1 above and about as secure from prying eyes…with the addition of Mark Zukerberg reading your message. Who knows – he might. Plus, at any given time Facebook may mutate into a form that shares your private communications with anyone everywhere or no-one nowhere. Don’t be concerned – there will be Grumpy Cat.

4. Billet Doux. Small, perfumed, in a discrete envelope. Surreptitiously slip it into the hand of…the man at the hardware store who is mixing paint. Smile mysteriously at him and slip away. Never return. For the next two weeks he will be so nervous that he will not hammer the paint tin lids down evenly and there will be a hell of a mess everywhere.

5. Rockmail. Wrap a letter around a medium sized rock and throw it through your correspondent’s front window. This is a form of communication best done at night. If you write your message on the back of a glazier’s advertisement it is even more poignant.

6. Bulletin board at the IGA or paper sign taped to a lamp post. Not private, but not expensive, either. No computer needed.

7. Bullhorn. Battery – powered megaphones are cheap enough at Dick Smith’s shop. While they may not be high fidelity, we can guarantee that your audience will listen when you stand on their front lawn and tell them what you think of them. The neighbours may pretend to be annoyed, but they are secretly writing down everything you say for use later.

8. Quiet conversation at arm’s length. Hopelessly old-fashioned thing to do, and takes a long time compared to a quick text, but may be better understood. One of the few modes of communication that involves tea and cakes.


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