Tuesday, February 2, 2016

One Seven Zero: Landline

I own two phones. I have an iPhone in my briefcase, and there's a small cordless landline on a table in my flat. I'll confess at the beginning that the iPhone is rarely turned on. I don't encourage calls to my mobile number. I use it for very occasionally calling out and for its web connection. I don't use the camera, and I dislike texts and texting. Texts have always seemed intrusive to me. They demand an immediate response, and I dislike that kind of demand. A text is limited to some fairly small number of characters; it's not a way to have the kinds of conversations I enjoy. Texts are for a handful of basic exchanges---- meet me at ________, call me at __________, what's the address/phone number? I don't send photos via text, and I almost never receive a photo.  I like conversations and telling stories, and texting isn't a way for me to do either.

That leaves the little landline. No one has landlines at home any more; that's just taken as a given in Millennial circles. I can't imagine not having one, though. I'm a gentleman of a certain age, and in my youth not having a phone at home was very socially suspect. Respectable people had telephones in their houses or apartments. That attitude is still with me. The mobile in my briefcase is something I'll always see as an accessory, as something just a bit secondary, something that's a bit frivolous or trivial. My real phone is there on the desk, and there should be a listing in an actual paper telephone directory.

A few years ago I read an on line article that said that landlines were making a bit of a comeback in places like Brooklyn. They were retro, yes--- having a 1950s-style desk phone or a 1960s-style Princess phone was hip. And hipster girls (and aren't attractive young girls always the arbiters of what's socially acceptable?) were starting to see a certain value in landlines. The article said that landlines were taken as a marker for stability, for saying that a boyfriend or potential boyfriend wouldn't just vanish. I like that attitude, of course. I can't escape the idea that having a landline is a social marker.

The landline will always seem like more of a connection than the mobile. It's far more an instrument for telling stories.  It's far better for flirtations and seductions as well.  I've never quite grasped the idea of sexting. I'm a painfully slow typist, and sexting doesn't allow for the things that would make the exchange work for me--- descriptions of place and time and costume, long complex accounts of what's happening or should happen. If there's going to be flirtation and seduction, it has to be structured like a novel. It can't be just blunt, direct questions in text-speak. If there's anything that kills the mood for me, it's poor grammar and text abbreviations.

I've no idea what the social status of phonesex or flirtation and seduction by phone is these days. I've noted before that any male participation in the Solitary Vice these days is regarded as pathetic or creepy, and in the age of the gender wars asking a girl to participate in phonesex is almost certainly regarded as a violation and an act of oppression. My suspicion is that even if the girl initiates the call,  the gender warriors would see it as "problematic". After all, a male is participating, and by definition he'd be pathetic and regarded as a loser. And revealing one's fantasies to a girl would be regarded as an act of aggression.

A 20th-c. poet (Muriel Rukeyser, I think) said that our lives are made up of stories, not atoms. Stories matter far more than flesh. Flesh can be turned into stories, but it's the stories themselves that last all down the years.  I can't imagine flirtation and seduction that doesn't grow out of stories told late at night over landlines. It's always a image I treasure--- voices crossing back and forth over landlines, stories told by phone in the post-midnight dark of a city bedroom, stories and exchanges that last until the dark turns dawn-blue.

I have to wonder, though, what the social valences are these days for long flirtations by phone. Does anyone stay on a mobile for hours? Are long telephone conversations still something that can be regarded as erotic? Tell me what you think--- here in the new century, is phonesex--- not sexting ---still an acceptable thing? What are its semiotics?

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