Columbia Star

The Telephone Cliché

It’s not a criticism; It’s an observation



The modern cell phone has finally achieved cliché status. Actually, this distinction was achieved about ten upgrades ago when humans first became so addicted to cell phones that users started stepping in front of subway trains and walking off the edge of mountaintops while hyp-mo-tized by the LED screen.

I can’t recall the first time I watched a movie where a frantic young woman was trying to call for help in a dire situation only to notice “no bars” on the reception symbol, but it was several cheesy Sci-Fi movies ago. Maybe back to when movie makers actually tried to make them interesting and scary rather than campy and awful.

CSI and other television programs long ago offered the victims’ cell phone as evidence to help solve a crime when no one was left alive to provide testimony. Even First 48 considers finding the personal calling device a high point in the investigation. Cell phones rank very high on the movie cliché list; right up there with cars that won’t start, guns that never run out of bullets, and groups of friends featuring one each from every ethnic group yet discovered.

But the telephone has a long relationship with Hollywood. That piercing ringtone erupting in the still, dark night has a lengthy history; a plot device designed to make viewers jump out of their seats. The caller would refuse to speak when prompted, yet call back immediately upon hangup and still say nothing.

I always wondered why the poor victim kept picking up. The comic answer to this was when the person finally had enough and screamed at the caller, and it was their mother or boyfriend. Very funny.

In those ancient times, the phone wasn’t attached to one’s person and psyche like today’s personal calling device. I am old enough to remember when adding an extension in the bedroom was considered opulent and only someone like Kim Kardashian would actually stick a phone in the bathroom. Phones were used to communicate with other people. Only. Most calls likely set up a face to face meeting.

Ever since the first cell phone call was made in New York in 1973, things have been different. Land lines, as regular phones are now referred to, are disappearing faster than quality drinking water. Using the telephone to actually call someone is also quickly becoming a quaint and soon forgotten custom.

We text each other; its much more efficient. We also constantly check our email for that really important looming message or look up trivia to impress our friends. We share some hilarious thought on Twitter, Snapchat, or some other obscure platform. And we take pictures, millions of them; selfies ad nauseam, every memorable place we visit so we don’t need to remember the experience. We even take pictures of our food.

I’m not sure Alex Bell had this in mind when he summoned his assistant Watson from another room, but the telephone has taken over our lives, and with it our imagination, which means we’ll only see an increase in the number of telephone references on television programs, in movies, and central to the plot of advertising spots.

Can you hear me now, indeed.

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