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Can you hear me now? On:2012-02-09 00:00:00

One of the great, absolutely horrid, awful, disconcerting and absolutely poopy curses of modern life is communication. Well at least it can be. Sometimes. Especially over long distances. Not to mention with family.

You see, back in the long-distant days of my youth, long distance communication was simple. You either had to make a horrendously expensive phone call for a few minutes every week or so, or you’d get a letter and after a short time, say a month, you’d reply to it.
And nobody thought any less of you if it was a couple of months, or five months before you replied. And (and this is the important bit) they wouldn’t freak out and worry too much about it either!
Ah! Yes! If you’re lucky you’ll remember that wonderful world when nobody in your family would panic and assume the worst if you dropped out of circulation for a time—well my older listeners will, and for the rest of you: Tough luck! Because now things are so different.
Those things first started to take a turn for the worse a decade or so ago, when the rot set in, and mobile phones started to become popular and cheap.
From being grateful for the ability to talk to ones friends and relations every so often, we suddenly went to having an obligation to talk to the buggers practically all the time.
This ghastly circumstance first struck me when I was driving somewhere in the depths of the American countryside ten years or so ago (though now I think on it it was actually the heights of an American mountain side): it was the sort of remote hickdom where the locals might well have a tendency to think that a cell phone’s what you got to make your one call on after you’ve been arrested because you shot the sheriff (though of course you did not shoot the deputy). There was absolutely no reception for miles. And, when (after all those miles had been travelled) there was reception again, I got a worried call from my mother who had been trying to reach me and was distraught that I hadn’t made my one call from the cells to her on my up to then not-one-call-making cell phone. She had had visions of us in gaol, or crashed and lying injured in a ditch somewhere, quite probably in the pouring rain or freezing cold or driving blizzard or raging hurricane or earthquake or dinosaur-destroying asteroid fall---all of which would be pretty bad things to happen in a gaol.
And then, just as I was beginning to think that communication couldn’t get any worse, came so-called anti-social media: Facebook and its ilk.
And finally horror of horrors the Hell of SKYPE and instant communication face to blurry face, wall to bloody wall, Dick Tracy to damned Jetsons, any time to every time.
And now I can Skype to the computers and phones of just about anyone---I could even do it with one of my daughters when she was in the darkest bush of Kenya---and of course especially with my Mum back in England, which I do for ten minutes every single morning. And again for about an hour every Sunday, Georgia and I talk with her. This you may think is all good and dutiful and pleasant. And it usually is.
But... Last Sunday, as we were all nattering away, Mum’s image froze and she was stopped in mid anecdote. It happens. Communication is still striving for totality and these glitches do happen. You just Skype her again and continue as though nothing had happened. Only we couldn’t. She seemed to be off-line.
Well, try again.
And again!
And again!!
Maybe something’s wrong with her computer? No matter let’s just Skype her on her telephone. It’s a terribly twentieth-century land line nothing goes wrong with that.
Only we couldn’t. she’s not answering. That never happens! Try again. Try all of the above, rinse and repeat.
Skype with cousin Marie who’s just come on line and is wondering why she can’t get in touch with her Aunt Margaret.
Try all of the above, rinse and repeat.
Earlier I mentioned, in passing how parents are constantly worried, when their children are out an about, about accidents and injured-or-worse bodies lying in ditches somewhere? Well you can guess where our minds went after the first half-an-hour or so of this. Our parents are just as bad as our children, and as we failed to restore communication we had visions of Mum lying injured in a ditch---it would have to be in the middle of her living room but in our minds the ditch-somewhere was where she was.
After an hour we Googled and then Skyped the police station in Beccles. Aaargh! we indicated! We can’t get in touch with my 88-year-old mother who lives alone and was talking to us and ... and ...and so forth.
Hurrah for the wonderful British Bobby! They almost immediately sent a couple of them over to Mum’s house and she was of course fine: there was a fault on the line which took down her phone and the DSL that runs on it. We were all frantic and stressed and everything merely because of the curse of that damned modern communication.
Cheerio for now
Richard Howland-Bolton

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