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Silver Threads: Memories of a textless time

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

The other day I was reading a newspaper columnist of middle years who commented that, while walking along a beach, he spied three teenaged boys sauntering beside the surf, close together, texting quietly and diligently on their cell phones.

His point was that they weren’t enjoying the scenery or their own company; never mind frolicking in the waves or even searching out cute, bikini-clad girls sunning themselves on towels. He lamented that they had substituted social media for personal interaction or, simply, pleasure in being in a beautiful place on a beautiful day.

What would that columnist make of today’s news that cell phone and tablet apps are being created for dogs and cats?

I can vouch for the fact that our mini dachshund, Heidi, will never avail herself of this technology. She leaves the room when the television is turned on, preferring not to endure the barrage of loud sounds required by two elderly people seeking to understand the English accents in Masterpiece Mystery by turning the volume up HIGH and HIGHER

Granted, the apps on the pads and pods and tablets wouldn’t necessarily offend her ears, but she might expect them to BLARE forth at any second.

And the columnist might have warned that the games would make her, like the teenagers, oblivious to reality (i.e. the lizards to chase and the birds to bark at in her own backyard).

But I digress. I checked out the facts of the newspaper-column beach story with our teenaged grandsons and found they were not inclined to marvel at it. Nor did they find any aspect of their contemporaries’ actions to wonder about.

Texting is a necessary part of life, they think, and who would not interrupt a stroll to answer an urgent message from a friend?

Well. I was born before teenagers were invented; I think that came with the Baby Boomers. In the ’40s and at least the first half of the ’50s, there were no marketing campaigns aimed at this age group, no special qualities or needs attributed to them.

In my youth, there was but one telephone in our house — a rotary-dial model that stood on a little table in the dining room, just outside the kitchen, and since my mother and two sisters also routinely communicated on it, it would have been hard for me to have prolonged conversations. And forget about comments on my mood of the moment. Or whether another zit had just popped out.

And back in the ’50s, if you were a girl, calling a boy simply wasn’t ‘done.’
It was OK to dial his number to invite him to a party, if the club or Sunday school class was giving one and you wanted him to be your date. Even while I was sort of going ‘steady,’ during my senior year, I left it up to him to initiate our telephone contacts.

In the college dormitories of the day, there were four or five phones down in the lobby, and, at our school, you were summoned via loudspeaker from below when a call came in with your name on it. I don’t remember ever ringing anybody up from the dorm, except my mother. Everybody I wanted to talk to either lived there with me or was lounging around outside under the oaks with the rest of the football team.

Wouldn’t it be fun take a modern teenager and plop her right down for a day in 1954 and get her reaction to life without Facebook or smart phones or Twitter?

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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