Here's an item that just about qualifies as an official blast from our technological past: cradle phone.
You can still get one for about fifteen bucks, an old-fashioned corded, plug-in phone otherwise known as a princess phone or a trimline. Folks born after 1990 are likely to have never used one, and cell phones are replacing the whole phone-jack paradigm even as we speak. Even oldsters like me who have been using cordless phones for at least the last 20 years consider the cradle a bona fide relic. It's simply not something widely in use.
And for freelance journalists like me who use the phone as a primary work tool, a phone that's speaker, hands-free or mobile has become an absolute must; the idea of being tied to a phone in a single room of your house is inconceivable (and ergonomically disastrous--reporters holding the phone between ear and shoulder as they furiously typed probably produced a lot of pinched nerves. Of course corded phones are still the office mode, but fewer and fewer journalists work in offices).
Yet I have been using a cradle phone at home for the last week. Talk about old school. My ten-year-old cordless finally went kaput, and while I try and find the time to go to Target, I am wedded to the trimline that's been stashed in my closet in case of electrical power outtages. I have to confess, I've made some discoveries that border on spiritual. Being forced to sit in one place and talk--not multitask--has been strange, but illuminating. I realize that while I talk on a mobile or cell I tend to dust, wash dishes or scan the Internet, not because I need to, but because I can. Now that I can't, I don't miss any of those things; I can actually focus on the conversation at hand.
Nor do I ever know who's calling me. Minus the ubiquitous caller I.D. readout, I have to decide to pick up the phone or not when it rings. I usually do. So far I haven't regretted the fact that I can't screen; in fact, knowing that I'll to deal with whoever does call me, whether it's a solicitor or my mother, has been a relief. I'm empowering myself by leaving the knowledge of incoming calls not to me, but to a higher power. I've discovered that I like not being in total control of information. I realize technology has given me too much control, and I haven't been reacting all that well. For the last week I've had considerably less anxiety in my life, less sense of chaos. Coincidence? I don't think so.
I'll get to Target eventually. But at this point I don't feel like multitasking, or even single-tasking. It may take a while.
Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.