In the 70s, when reliable long distance phone service was still novel to the strong consumer-base that was my grandparents’ generation, the phone company had a big ad campaign urging people to “Reach Out and Touch Someone” (“Reach out, reach out and just say Hi,” was the next line in the jingle.) The spirit was very similar to the wave of online photo-sharing ads that you see now on TV from Time Warner, Kodak, Verizon, etc. (So I guess the key to marketing new technologies is “Dangle Grandchildren.”)
But conversations over distance don’t impress us anymore. And today I’m wondering if they don’t promise something they can’t deliver – like, say, reality.
I’m thinking about Mamadou Soumare and his wife Fatoumata who died in the horrible fire in the Bronx this week. His last conversation with her was by cell phone, and she knew she might not make it out of the fire.
Can you imagine getting that call? The satellite-powered, no-mercy version of the “By the time you read this, I will be dead” notes from bygone days. I’m not sure I can – and I can imagine a lot.
We all heard lots of stories like this after the 9/11 attacks – frantic calls and voicemails, tearful goodbyes. And I’m certain that anyone who got one of those calls or voicemails would tell me I’m full of shit, and that they treasure those final moments and messages dearly.
But having been spared that test, I’m left imagining the awful pangs of pre-bereavement in a situation like Soumare’s, and thinking about current friendships and past romances held over distance, where the phone was as much a consolation as a comfort – like the mournful unanswered ringback tone in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”