Ah, yes. The days when they had longer hair, smaller phones, and wired earbuds…

An Appreciation of Modern Communication Technology

By Allison Chrien

I have absolutely no idea how my mom did it.

Well, that thought applies to several aspects of motherhood but today I’m thinking specifically about surviving motherhood without the aid of modern communication technology. Allow me to share a story as an example.

We lived in Stow my entire required-schooling life and then, halfway through my second voluntary year at Kent State, my dad was transferred to Wisconsin. I was living at home at the time and will readily admit that fending for myself was not something I’d planned to do for many years to come. I had no idea how to even begin finding a place to live because I’d never thought to make brain space to learn such things ahead of time. My brain space had always been fully reserved for doing well in school and juggling the general drama of whatever age I was living, not practical things like managing the means of my own survival.

So, what did I do? Well, I did what was easy, of course. It was necessary to keep the unexpected forfeiture of brain space to a minimum.

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For me, easy meant renting a single at The University Inn, an efficiency hotel that leased to students during the school year. Doing that meant no stressed-out searching for what was available, no figuring out how to sublet while I summered in Wisconsin, no worrying about who to call for maintenance issues, no dealing with roommates and hoping we didn’t end up killing each other… utilities and cable TV were even included.  

Easy. But not cheap. And what was NOT included (in either the rent or my budget) was phone service. 

It’s worth noting here that this all occurred during the very early 90s. I can’t remember if I’d ever even seen a beeper, much less a cell phone. My only option was a payphone on the top floor of the building, outside of a bar that I was still too young to enter.

So. There was my mom, a full day’s car ride away, patiently waiting for me to use that prepaid calling card she gave me to let her know I was OK – something I tried to do every week but inevitably went two or even three weeks until she just couldn’t take it any longer and had to leave a “call your mother” message for me at the front desk. And when I did call, it wasn’t particularly easy to have a normal, casual, “hey, how’s life treating you” kind of conversation while standing in the hall on a payphone outside of a bar.

I share this story with you because I’ve flashed back to that scenario quite often since I became a mom with the distance of a full day’s plane ride from my kid, relishing the phone calls I get when he has the house to himself and the just-because texts that come out of the blue and even the rare Instagram posts that let me know he’s OK. 

And every time I’ve flashed back, in addition to the quiet blessing mentally sent to my mother, I’ve sent a quiet thank you to the universe for modern communication technology. Of course, there have been countless other scenarios that triggered that same quiet thank you since we caved and got the boys their first phones in their early teens…

Like when one of them had homework to do but was at his friend’s and didn’t think to ask us before swinging by Amish country on the way home. Or when the other needed to be picked up early from soccer practice because he got nailed in the head with the ball and was feeling a little bit wonky. Or when a hollow threat had been made to the school and was handled but we were all naturally spooked and wanted them out of there for the rest of the day.

The years have been peppered with a fair number of lighthearted scenarios, though, too – scenarios like “I saw this and thought you might like it,” “I have a question that only you can answer,” and “hey, dude, stop gaming and just go to bed already.” 

(We always swore we wouldn’t become parents who would text our kids from the next room, but sometimes it saves a whole lot of hassle. And sometimes it’s just plain funny.)

The kids having their own phones came with a whole host of concerns, to be sure, and we were much more lax about it than we intended to be. We definitely let things slide that we should’ve stopped and missed things altogether that we should’ve caught.

But it also created a whole new layer of communication that wasn’t available to my parents. How different would life have been for us all if we’d been able to shoot each other quick little texts between calls, touching base and sharing some of the everyday minutiae of our new lives when we were several states away? Or if they’d been able to let me know that my clever ruse that one night senior year had been discovered shortly after I left and they knew I was not, in fact, going to spend the night at my friend’s house, leaving them to pace and stress all night long while I watched stupid TV and drank Yoo-hoo with friends and boys they didn’t know?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been lucky relationship-wise with my parents, I’m not questioning that at all. What I am questioning is whether I personally could have survived that aspect of parenting with my sanity intact.

So thank you, universe, for my ability to text my kids to find out what kind of pie they want from the store or to get permission to publish a picture of them from over three years ago. My life is immensely easier because of it. 

Allison Chrien lives in Copley with her husband, one of her sons, and her cat (who doesn’t appreciate modern communication technology at all) and is happy to say that she hasn’t had to call her mother from a payphone outside of a bar in almost 30 years. She communicates with the community at large through Hell Raisers and through her website, loopincopley.com. 

Photo provided by Allison Chrien