In June, I called a former neighbor named Jim on the anniversary of his son's suicide.
Jim picked up right away, recognizing my number. It's not that we've talked on the phone all that often. But he must have figured something was up.
"I'm calling because I know it's the anniversary of Tom's passing and I wanted to see how you and Karen [his wife] are doing."
"Oh, that's nice of you," Jim said.
For the next fifteen minutes, we got caught up on everything that's happened since I moved out of the neighborhood in 2018.
Not long thereafter, I got a notification on my phone telling me that a friend's mom had passed away a year earlier, so I called him.
"Hey, Tom. My calendar tells me that this is the first anniversary of your mom's passing. I wanted to call and check on you."
"Wow. Wow. That's something else."
Obviously, he was surprised that I had remembered. But I didn't really. I just make it a habit of putting such anniversaries and important dates in my phone so I will remember.
He went on to tell me that he wasn't really a date guy, but that he was very appreciative of me calling. We spent the next ten or fifteen minutes catching up.
Part of me laments the days when we called one another, rather than sending texts, and part of me is thankful for the new technology.
The part of me that laments our hesitancy to call one another believes we are missing out on a closer connection through tone inflection and just the normal give and take of an actual conversation.
But we're all busy and have different schedules, which makes it hard to talk on someone else's timetable. And that's really what this comes down to, isn't it? Often, we are really only willing to talk to each other on the phone when it's convenient ... for us.
I'm guilty, for sure.
The new norm is to text someone to see if he or she is available to talk on the phone, and we've all adapted to that. Most of us have a handful of friends who don't need to abide by that code, but once you get outside that small circle, it's expected.
How did this layer of protection become the new norm? It has to be more than simply that technology allows it. Have we become more reclusive, less willing to interact with each other?
If you are over fifty like I am, then you lived in such a time when technology didn't allow us to screen calls, so we couldn't do it. When the phone rang, we picked it up.
Of course, robocalls weren't a thing. And telemarketers were far and few between. So it was easier to know that you'd be talking to someone you knew if you picked up the phone back then.
If telemarketers were the turning point, did we allow them to condition us to build in a layer of protection so that by the time caller ID came along, screening calls became the norm?
Has all of this led to increased feelings of loneliness? If your two or three closest friends were on a cruise and didn't have cell service and you felt an extreme sense of loneliness or sadness pressing down on you, could you reach out to other friends via the phone, or would you hesitate (or send a text message first)?
I suspect that most of us would hesitate. I certainly would, mostly because I don't know if the other person would see it as an invasion of his or her privacy. That feels pretty bizarre, given the way I used to pick up the phone and call friends every day, and at all hours of the night.
It's made me feel less connected, and frankly, I don't like that feeling. That sense of being disconnected has led to people not understanding the changes I am going through, and I suspect the same could be said from their perspective.
I don't think that's a good thing.
How do we turn the tide? Maybe it starts with just picking up the phone and calling someone.