2002.09.11 Does a telephone ring?

Written by David Green.


The college professor drones on to his class of freshmen. He’s starting to repeat himself and the class is getting bored. Finally, one brave student raises her hand and says, “You’re beginning to sound like a broken record.”

Could this really happen on a college campus today?

It’s not likely, because what college freshman is going to know the sound of a broken record?

Sure, there are a few. I still like to get out the old Bob Dylan and Tim Buckley discs and give them a spin on my grandmother’s old turntable. It’s pretty scratchy and the speed hurries and slows between 29 rpms and 37 rpms. If you thought Dylan’s voice was odd at its normal speed, you should hear it on my grandmother’s record player.

Somewhere in the house we have a small collection of 45s. Those are records, too, kids; not a kind of gun.

I still yell out, “The phone’s ringing,” when I can’t get to it and I want someone else to leave the couch and answer. I think everybody talks about ringing phones, but when was the last time you actually heard a phone ring? I don’t know what the replacement word would be to describe the phone sound, so I expect they’ll ring for years and years to come.

Actually, we have an old phone at the office that rings. It even has a dial. A real antique from the olden days of the 1960s, probably. A few weeks ago I told someone to dial a certain number, and then I realized how silly that sounded. Nobody dials a phone unless they’re in the back part of the Observer office. I use that phone on rare occasions just to remember what it was like.

I thought about ringing phones when I heard someone talking about the “mindset list” put together each year by some staff members at Wisconsin’s Beloit College.

They want their colleagues to understand that their mindset—the mental attitude that determines a person’s understanding of a situation—is likely to be quite different from that of the 17- and 18-year-olds sitting in front of them.

“While [the students] are learning from us,” said Beloit instructor Tom McBride, “we need to make ourselves understood or we run the risk of failing to convey the base of ideas that will allow us to share the road to wisdom.”

Even though these kids were born in the ominous year 1984, the phrase “Big Brother” is only a television show to them. George Foreman has always been a barbecue grill salesman. Women have always had tattoos. Men never carry a handkerchief in their back pocket. For all these youngsters know, there’s always been a car on the road called a Saturn.

In the freshmen’s lifetime, scientists have always talked about the impact of acid rain. John Lennon’s son, Julian, had his only hit the year these kids were born. They grew up riding in minivans. Weather reports have always been available 24 hours a day on television, and Fox has always been a network choice, for better or for worse.

Richard Burton, Ricky Nelson, Truman Capote? We’re talking history now: Those guys have been dead as long as the freshmen have been alive.

Some items on the lists from the last two or three years are amusing. For these kids, popcorn has always been made in a microwave—unless you grew up in the weird Leddy-Green home.

Popcorn came from microwaves only during the past 18 months or so that we’ve owned a microwave. But I still make it in a pan with oil. This way it actually tastes like popcorn.

Typewriters are said to be antiques, but we sure had a lot of high school seniors over at our house a couple years ago when it was time to fill out scholarship forms.

Kids are said to be ignorant about the letters “cc” on their email program, and maybe so, but my kids have made carbon copies for years with carbon paper I’ve brought home from the office.

College students today have never known about dressing up for an airplane flight, but I think the professors are a little late on that observation. I know about it, but I only laugh. I’ve seen my parents do it and I always think it’s one of the oddest things.

Kids these day. I heard those words when I was kid.  Every generation, it goes over and over, just like a broken record.

    – Sept. 11, 2002 
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