The pilgrims arrived in their thousands, waiting sometimes for days for the moment announced in prophecy. They lay on the fake-marble floors of the temple, rested their heads on balled-up hoodies and stayed up to stare at their magical lanterns. And this was rather odd: If they had phones, why did they need phones?
No matter. The iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus arrived in the holy light of television cameras, as scripture (the Apple marketing department) promised they would. Before the main Apple store in Toronto had even opened on Friday, it had sold out of new gold phones, which made me think that five-year-old girls must be early risers. Surely they can be the only market for giant golden telephones.
Looking at the lineups outside Apple shops around the world, I was struck by something: Many people were on their phones, but no one was actually talking. Their heads were bent, more likely in text than in prayer. Fingers flew, but not because they were dialling. No one had a phone up to her ear, speaking. That's because phones aren't meant for phoning any more. Perhaps you all know this by now, because your own phones have long since stopped ringing, except for the distinctive trill of the elderly relative's birthday call.
Take a look at some of the reviews of the new iPhone: They praise its size, its elegance, the power of its camera and the clarity of its screen and the virility of its battery, but none of them mention anything about the actual talky bits. I'm only assuming you can still use it for conversations. Maybe not. Maybe Apple will soon be selling two gilded Dixie cups and a bit of string if you want to engage in something as 20th century as a bit of a chat.
That the phone is dead will not surprise the generation that considers The Phantom Menace to be the first Star Wars movie. Text messaging outstrips phone conversation for most avid users; teenagers send and receive thousands of texts per month. People are ditching their landlines. Even among my creaky cohort, the phone call has fallen out of favour: You must text someone first to warn them you might call.
A phone call, once the province of friendship, sympathy or lust, is now just another unwanted intrusion, the aural equivalent of junk mail. We want to be distracted, but we want to choose the time and place of our distractions. Anything else rankles. Even voice mail is an intrusion, apparently: "Who leaves a voice mail message when you don't answer?" Nick Bilton wondered in the New York Times. "… Don't these people know that they're wasting your time?"
"Now, calling on a phone is almost like a violation," Scott Campbell, a professor of telecommunications at the University of Michigan, told National Public Radio earlier this year. "It's very greedy for your social presence, and texting is not."
It's got so bad, the Wall Street Journal reported last year, that companies are now having to train employees on how to use the phone, and not be afraid of making calls. In one particularly glorious case, a manager had to explain what a dial tone meant.
The story quotes Mary Jane Copps, Halifax's very own Phone Lady, who works with the phobic so they can overcome their fear of a maligned technology. Who knew that "phone tamer" would one day be a job? As Ms. Copps says on her website, "the phone is the most direct, efficient and responsive way to reach, hear and inspire your market."
I have to agree with her: Nothing beats a phone conversation for communicating nuance, tracking down complexities, and stomping out misunderstandings (which can become a towering inferno of hostility in an e-mail chain.)
Using the phone makes you grow battle armour, and perhaps develop diplomatic skills you never thought you'd possess. As a young journalist, I once had to phone around to get quotes for the obituary of a celebrated Canadian who was, in the parlance of Monty Python, not quite dead yet. I phoned friends and acquaintances, some of whom began to sob, and others who asked, stricken, "when did it happen?" And I'd say, "Um, soon, possibly." He lived for another two years, but that day my fear of the phone died.
At the risk of sounding like Grampa Simpson, I'll be dang sad to see the phone go – to watch the red light on my desk, which almost never lights up any more anyway, finally go dim, and to stop listening for the bell that doesn't toll for me, or for anyone.