Our three children are grown and not a single one of them has a landline phone. They consider "home phones" pieces of antiquity like disco and eight-track tapes.
Which probably explains why the first question so many parents ask when calling one of their children, is: "Where are you?"
It used to be when you called someone you knew where they were at home. That's why they answered their phone, because they were home. If they weren't home, they didn't answer. It was a good system. You knew who was home and who wasn't.
Now when you call someone, chances are the person will not be home, but will answer the phone. Since I like a mental picture of where the kid I am talking to is located, I've fallen into a standard greeting of, "Hello, where are you?"
"At the grocery store. (Beep, beep goes the scanner.) Can I call you back?"
"I'm at Home Depot loading lumber. (2x4s clunk in the background.) Can I call you back?"
"We're hiking a trail and just about to the summit. (A bull moose bellows.) Can I call you back?"
"I'm in a restaurant. (Loud music, chattering voices.) Can I call you back?"
I have never understood why people answer a phone just to say hello and ask if they can call you back.
Of course, they can call me back. But they better not count on me being home.
Wireless phones cut the leash that once tethered us to home. The evolution of the phone has given us great freedom, but it has also disrupted a valuable pipeline of parental information.
When the family phone was a big black box anchored to the kitchen wall, a parent could answer the phone and discover who was calling, what they wanted, who they wanted to talk to, whether the caller was a male or female, their approximate age and whether they sounded friendly, curt, hostile or polite.
That 10 seconds of voice contact provided fodder for the Twenty Questions game that often followed the phone call. For parents, it was the Golden Age of Surveillance.
With the arrival of multiple extension phones scattered throughout a house, it was now possible for youth to "beat" mom and dad to the phone, thereby shielding callers from probing questions. Pity the parent with slow reflexes.
When phones went cordless, parents lost even more means of intelligence gathering. A parent could no longer "do dishes" in the kitchen and get the lowdown. The portable phone could move to a bedroom, a closet, the basement, the roof or the crawl space. A determined parent could get some information, but it was awkward.
"Mom! Get out of the closet. There's not room for both of us!"
And then came the cell phone. Children armed with their own phones are younger and younger and a lot of parents have no idea who is calling, how often they call, what they sound like, what they want, the nature of the message in the text or the picture in the e-mail.
Parents setting young children up with cell phones lose a lot of information in exchange for being able to call and say, "Hello, where are you?"
You can ask that when they're in their 20s. When they are adolescents and teens, you need to know a whole lot more.