Lake Norman & Mooresville

Technology is killing 'just dropping by'

I heard a radio talk show recently on sounds that will no longer be a part of modern life: the scratch of a turntable needle on a 78 rpm record, the chunk-chunk of an old-fashioned credit card machine.

These days, our phones play music and can even double as credit card scanners.

I wonder how long it will be until the sound of a regular telephone ringing is a relic, too. Fewer people still have land lines.

A long time ago, telephones hung on the wall. If you wanted to talk to a friend, you sat in the room where the telephone was, because the handset was attached to the cradle with a long, spiraling cord.

People didn't have cell phones. If they were outdoors, you simply didn't reach them until they came back indoors.

Because people couldn't be reached instantaneously, and because there was no such thing as email or social networking sites, there was a lot more "just dropping by."

Perhaps you've forgotten what this entails.

Just dropping by means that you, sitting at home with a phone that isn't ringing, say to yourself, "I'd like to talk to another human being. I can't reach my friends on the phone. They are probably outside. I think I'll drive to their house for a visit."

This sort of thing occurred often not only before the advent of the cell phone, but also before its annoying relative, the play date.

You used to be able to hang out with people without making an appointment. You used to be able to visit without tweeting about it. Because people's whereabouts were not tracked every moment of the day, they were a bit more relaxed about getting together.

I had almost forgotten that was possible until a few days ago. A young friend of ours, home from college on holiday break, dropped by for a visit. He hadn't even made an appointment!

He came to the door and the dog went nuts. I was feeding the baby some pureed chicken and vegetables. Lunch dishes were strewn all over the kitchen counter. The older kids were upstairs for a nap, and Phil was in the back yard taking apart the old swing set.

In short, life was going on.

And here was our friend, dropping by for a visit.

He chatted with me and the baby for a few minutes, then went outside to help Phil with the swing set. When the kids woke up, he wrestled with them and played hide-and-seek. He sat in our living room most of the afternoon, then joined us for a very ordinary weeknight dinner.

It was the best part of the holidays.

Ironically, in a world that is increasingly wireless, we're often more confined than ever to our little spaces. People can reach us at any time, so it feels almost like intruding just to drop by for a visit.

Maybe we need a little less availability and a little more intimacy. Some of the sounds we've lost are vital to human connection.

People are so much more than a profile picture and a few clever comments on a social networking site. People are actions and sounds, dirty dishes and fussing at their kids and ordinary weeknight dinners.

Maybe our young friend would look upon a wall phone as a relic, and maybe the ringing of such a phone would seem as odd a sound to him as the whir of a record player.

But there's one ringtone he knows, one that I hope doesn't become a sound of the past: the doorbell.