The Setting: Dining room table. My teenage daughter and her friends convene to discuss cell phones. Three teenage girls. Pony tail, careful hair, messy hair. Braces. Acne. Giggles. Glasses of milk, pile of cookies. Manicured nails. Bitten nails. Happy home lives, unhappy home lives. Each girl has on her person, regardless of manicure or bitten nubs, a cellphone.
I disclose to the girls that I had one phone in the house as a child. One phone.
Girl One: (She addresses me with the sympathetic tone one offers a hungry stray. )“You had one phone for everyone in the house to like, share?”
The table of teenage girls look at me like I’m a dinosaur. I shock them further.
Me: “One phone, and my dad would unplug it because he didn’t like to hear the ring.”
Girl Two: “So, you couldn’t choose a ring-tone? That would suck…”
Me: “No. Just one brrrrrrring noise.”
I turn on the microphone. I’ve been trying to find people willing to be recorded. Teenagers like to talk.
Me: “So what’s it like to have a cellphone?”
Girl Three: “Well it’s not like anything. It just is. I’ve had one since fifth grade.”
The girls nod and look into their laps where their phones nest. Girl Three wears matching outfits and keeps her hair ironed straight as straw. Her cellphone is in a pink polka dot case.
Girl One, Girl Two and Girl Three begin to talk all at once and over each other in a chorus of agreement. And shared reality. And with the excited pitch of finding traces of themselves in each other:
Girl One:”You know when I don’t have my phone I feel kind of panicked.”
Girl Two: Oh my God, me too!
Girl Three: Right? It’s so weird.
Me: “About what? What do you feel panicked about?”
Girl One: “What if something happens and I don’t know? Also, when I don’t have my phone and I’m walking and somebody walks by who seems creepy, I just pretend I’m talking on my phone.”
Girl One wears her track shoes at all times and her phone is held together with some tape.
Me:“Does that make you feel more relaxed? Even if you’re not really talking to anyone?”
Girl One: “Yeah, when you’re talking it’s like you’re not alone.”
She looks at me like what, what don’t I understand?
Me: “So you’re alone when you don’t have your phone. Whether or not you’re actually talking to anyone isn’t the point?”
Girl One: “Sorta. But when I don’t have my phone, I really feel like I’m missing a part of me.”
Me: ”Like a limb?”
Girl One doesn’t answer. She’s texting without looking at her phone and while eating a cookie.
I look around and see her closest friends are at the table.
Me: “Who are you texting?”
Girl One: ”My Nana.”
Me: ”She texts you?”
Girl One: ”Yeah and she’s fast. She doesn’t use full sentences like my mom.”
Girl Three: ”Parents do that. They use punctuation.”
Me: ”We’re not supposed to?”
Girl Two: “It’s fine if you do. It just takes longer is all”
Me: ”So, do you all sleep with you phones?”
Girl Three: ”I do. I keep it under my pillow.”
Girl One: ”I keep mine on the floor so I can hear texts coming in.”
Girl Two: ”Yes. Phone or computer. I keep one on by my bed.”
Me: ”You guys are never out of touch.”
Girl One: ”It doesn’t feel safe. When I can’t sleep I text.”
Me: “Who is awake to text in the middle of the night?”
Girl One: ”Your daughter!”
Girl Two: ”Yeah, you should talk to her about that.”
Girl Three: ”And she’s on Facebook all night too.”
Me: ”Okay, this interview is over.”
Girls laugh hysterically. I turn mic off.