Friday, July 17, 2009

Generation Phone Home

Let me start by saying that for a not quite nineteen-year-old young man, my son has his act together. He had the same job for two and a half years as a lifeguard, where he routinely pulled people (mostly the very young, and rather old) out of the water before they could come into harm's way. His new job is at a retail clothing center that hired him as a manager. An appropriate level of responsibility, and he'll likely do a very good job. It's something that he can balance with school, and it earns him spending money.

Among his peers he stands out as being rather poised, responsible, and articulate. I'm proud of my son, is my point. He's never been in any kind of serious trouble, he has all the makings of a solid citizen. Aside from the fact that he dates like he's training for some kind of dubious Olympics, he's a good kid. But if he lost his cell phone I have no idea what would become of him.

Now, I'm forty-two, so clearly I had my son at a youngish age. A bit younger than I had planned, but that's absolutely fine, all things considered, that worked out well so far. I had a lot of responsibility growing up, and even if I hadn't thought I was quite ready for that responsibility prior to a certain stick turning a decided shade of blue, it turned out that I was. Probably because I wasn't able to phone home much, there really wasn't anyone to answer, for one thing.

I didn't grow up with a cell phone. In fact, I'm one of those adults who isn't particularly fond of the things, and although I generally carry one, I don't chat with friends as I go about my daily business. I sit down every now and then and have a nice long chat, but when I do that, that's what I'm doing. When I'm at the doctor's or the movies, or the grocery store, my cell is turned off. It is a great thing to have in emergencies, that's for sure. Unfortunately the fact that a cell phone can make an emergency situation much easier to solve has had the consequence of turning a cell phone into a problem solving tool. Perhaps more than it should be.

Just last week my son's alternator died as he was driving home, just as he was on an on-ramp for a 65mph highway, as luck would have it, and it was dark out. Oh how I loved his cell phone then. One call and my husband was out of the door, on his way to the rescue. He flagged down a tow truck, although we have AAA because even with an emergency flair, the car presented a safety hazard in the dark, on the narrow on-ramp. That's an emergency situation, and hopefully had we not been around to take the call, my son would have reached into his wallet, found his AAA card, and gotten help that way. That's what we reviewed after the car -- since repaired and back on the road -- had been safely towed to a repair shop.

Prior to that, in the same week, I was busily painting the house we now rent out, spending my day atop a ladder for the most part, I left my cell phone at home. I wasn't going to be available, I was only going to be gone for five or so hours, and clambering down from the ladder repeatedly didn't seem like a good plan. By the time I got home I had 8 missed calls, four of them from my son, three of them complete with messages.

He thought he was running out of gas, you see. He wasn't near an ATM, his funds were suspect because he'd been spending most of his money on the Dating Olympics and was awaiting the next day's paycheck. So he called me. Over and over. Leaving messages with an increasingly pleading tone to them. It evidently never occurred to him that I simply was unavailable because I had chosen to leave my cell phone elsewhere. My son is part of Generation Phone Home. The generation that believes there will never be a time when you have to simply think on your feet, solve your own problem, rescue your own butt.

Cell phones, they are great in many ways. Parents are far less likely to sit up at nights, creating dead-in-a-ditch scenarios. We know where our children are, who they are with, and to an extent, what they are doing. That's an improvement over the world in which I grew up where you'd have to hoof it to the nearest pay phone.

Yet, it causes its own set of problems. My son thought he was running out of gas, so he called me, but by the time I got home he was already there. Had he solved the problem? No. His final message to me was that he would simply have to risk running out of gas, and was headed home. Since I wasn't there to solve his problem -- this intelligent young man, a young man who saved the life of a three-year-old little girl when she wandered into the deep end, and away from her distracted parents -- didn't know what else to do. Not because he's helpless, but because he's never really faced that situation before. We solve our kid's difficulties for them, and I sometimes wonder if they know the difference between a difficult situation, and an emergency. After all, it seems the response system within them is the same. Phone home and await instruction.

This is the most resourceful and responsible person in his age group, according to almost everyone that has encountered him. When faced with what appeared to be an impending dilemma, he called for assistance, but when none was readily available, he didn't know what else to do.

Cell phones are great, but I sometimes think that as parents we forget to cover what to do when that option won't work. We forget that the only love relationship we will ever have in our lives meant to grow to autonomy is the one we have with our children. We've let the thing that spared us from worry and fear become the main tool our kids have when facing the world.

Don't get me wrong, I'm so glad cell phones exist. But it was because the Great Gas Crisis had happened just days before the honest to goodness emergency that I knew to sit down and cover with my son what he had to do if we had been completely unavailable when that had happened.

He'll learn, I know he will. Cell phones save lives every single hour of every single day but I'm also reminded of a case that was in the news a couple of weeks ago. Upon encountering a smoking pickup truck with two occupants trapped inside, a twenty-year-old young man picked up his cell, and called his father who lived nearby. His father drove to the scene quickly, and with the help of his son, managed to get the two people from the truck before it caught fire and was engulfed in flames.

What a wonderful tale of heroism. Of course, I couldn't help but laugh dryly, and thank providence that his father answered the phone. Generation Phone Home called Generation Save Your Own Butt and together, they got it done.

Somewhere in-between is likely the appropriate level of autonomy.


PhilipH said...

We call 'em mobiles in the UK. And I've had one for about 15 years. Used it about 30 times or so in that time. Spent around £15 on 'pay as you go' cards.

I bought mine solely for travel purposes. I abhor those people, often ignorant people, who seem to have a 'glue ear' - no, not the medical condition but just having their mobile phone stuck on their ear all day long.

Annoying to have to listen to these people waffling and chattering away, usually very loudly, in public.

I agree, mobile phones are useful - in emergencies. Otherwise, they're a pain in the gluteus maximus.

Land of shimp said...

I like the term mobile better than cellular, it's highly descriptive, and fitting.

I also agree that mobiles/cells are a pain, Philip. I'm glad to know I'm not alone in that. For instance, most of the time I don't want to hear the conversations people are having. I'm also the dork in the grocery store that always answers the question posed aloud, because I can't seem to adjust to the fact that everyone else is yakking away into their cells while shopping.

"Where are the pickles?"

Me (somewhat startled): I think they're on aisle..

*Person who just asked a loud question less than three feet away from me, gestures impatiently to their headset, or the cell in hand, as if I've got a specific form of disability. *

Invariably I almost involuntarily mouth the word, "Sorry!" which is pretty ironic but is a knee-jerk response.

There's also this weird thing that, and maybe I really am wrong about this, it seems that people can't stand to keep their own company for five full minutes. I really notice it at the grocery store, because that's an activity almost everyone does alone from time to time.

It almost seems as if we are ashamed to do anything by ourselves any longer. "Look, I know people. I have family, I have friends! I'm not by myself!"

It's grocery shopping, or going to the post office. Being alone with your thoughts can be very pleasant, and it will also keep me from endlessly directing people towards pickles ;-)

A human kind of human said...

In his 22nd year my son gave me a Mothers' Day card that explains the Generation Phone Home, it said: "I the going gets tough, the tough... phones mother." I found it really funny.

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