It happens at the same time every school day.
The recently released students from the nearby middle school come pouring through the doors of the library. A line forms at the service desk with children wishing to call home. After they request usage of our desk phone, we give them the usual spiel- dial 8 to get an outside line, then press 1, followed by their area code and phone number-nothing too complicated. Most kids dial, make their call, and then they’re off (some actually remembering to thank us).
This routine procedure is not out of the ordinary and hardly noteworthy, so why mention it at all?
I bring this topic up because I have been noticing that more and more children seem to be completely mystified by the workings of…a push-button phone. On multiple occasions, I will rattle off the 8/1/area code/phone number line only to have the child stand there with a look of confusion on their face, glancing up at me, then down at the phone. Figuring that I must have spoken too quickly the first time, I repeat the instructions. The child now looks panicky as they search the phone for a touch screen to swipe.
“Press 8,” I say for the third time in my kindly, helpful librarian voice.
At last, a hesitant finger, reminiscent of E.T., reaches out and pushes the button.
“Excellent!” I say, “but this time, pick up the phone receiver first.”
“Yes, but turn it around, you’re holding it upside down. There you go! Now press 8.”
“Now your area code and phone number.”
The child stares at the numbers, the look of confusion returning.
“Do you know…?”
“No, I don’t know your number. Sorry.”
All right, so maybe I’m exaggerating…a little.
I suppose I shouldn’t be too critical. After all, I am frequently stymied by smartphones (“I just wanted to make a call. Why is this thing doing my taxes?”). In fact, over the years I have been gradually growing into a technology curmudgeon. This is a rather unfortunate position to take if one wishes to remain employed in the twenty-first century library.