By Sister Bernie Hart, for Guided Autobiography workshop
I grew up knowing basic means of communication: letters, phone calls, visiting or face-to-face meetings. If someone lived nearby, you called them on the phone or you went over to visit them. If they lived far away – 50 miles or more – you wrote them letters, mostly, and sometimes called. The phone was in one place in the house, usually the hallway. By the time I was using a telephone, we no longer had party lines, where you shared the same line with one or more neighbors. But you also rarely had a chance for a private phone conversation. Later on you were able to have more than one phone in your house, so, for convenience, you could call from the kitchen, bedroom, hallway or living room, and also, possibly, have a private conversation, though you had to listen for someone picking up an extension elsewhere in the house. I remember my mother had a friend who liked to talk a lot and when she called, you knew it would be for 30 minutes or longer! As my sister and then older brother moved out of the house to their own place, my Mom would call them. When my Dad was out on trips he would call home as it came out of his work pay and not on our bill. I do not remember calling much on the telephone, even when I was in high school –except to set up a meeting place or check on the homework. Most of my communication was done by face-to-face times with my friends or family.
From the time I entered letter writing was the ONLY means of communication, and even then they were often read by the Novice Mistress or Superior of the house! This changed when our life style gradually loosened up, starting in the late sixties and early seventies. The phone was still the main means of communication, though letter writing was also common.
Most of our houses had a phone booth that afforded some privacy. And many of us in the Bay Area learned to come to Burlingame to use the phone there as any long distance calls would not be on our local house bill for the Superior to question us about! This was basically the means of communication until the late 1990’s when mobile phones began to be used by the ordinary folk! (The first call was made in 1973, but it took this long to refine the phones and get them to be user friendly.)
I first used a mobile phone in 2001, when I became a Vocation Director and needed to be contacted easily. (That was when I got my first laptop computer, too, but that is another story!) Gradually my family and friends could all be contacted on a mobile phone, even my mother in her 90’s! Of course there were some disadvantages to these phones as they were sometimes out of range of service. This was especially true in the mountains where my parents lived. I could not get reception in the house and only in some places outside. Often I had to drive a mile into town near the pond where there were less trees and more open space. Even two years ago, living in St. Louis area I could not always get reception in all parts of the building.
Today, I can call most people from anywhere I am and connect with them. I love being able to text, too, as I can give a short message or check to see if they can talk now before I actually call them. For my three sisters, the oldest one is the easiest to get hold of. Her mobile is her only phone and if she cannot answer she at least returns my calls later. My next younger sister has had trouble with her phones, in part due to her inability to punch the numbers as she loses feeling in her fingers, but also because she has no patience is if does not work immediately. Luckily, now, she has a land line, too, so I have a back-up for her. My youngest sister only has a cell phone, does not like talking on the phone, and has trouble hearing so I am often repeating what I say. She likes face-to-face best!
Is the cellphone an improvement?? Yes, and no. I love it for friends and family far away, but for those nearby I don’t always take the time to just visit. I will text, I will call, but these do not help you to deepen friendships and understanding. They are temporary means to communicate, but the sitting down for a glass of wine or a comfortable cup of tea cannot be replaced!