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Smerconish: 'Who knew the old rotary dial' connected our lives?

By Michael Smerconish
Follow @smerconish 

Let me finish tonight with this.

John Harwood wrote an interesting piece this week for the New York Times in which he discussed the difficulty that pollsters are having in this presidential cycle as they try to reach one segment of the electorate — those who rely exclusively on cell phones.  

Harwood pointed out that Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, and Peter Hart, his Democratic counterpart, who conduct the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll recently increased the proportion of respondents who rely exclusively on cellphones to 30 percent from 25 percent. To hone in on them, the pollsters ended calls answered on cellphones if the respondents said they also had land lines. These voters tend to be more Democratic in their political views than those with land lines.

It occurs to me that there are other, non-political ramifications to our dependency on cell phones only. Namely, that total reliance on our individual phones actually limits communication. 

You can trace this to the days when the only phone ringing was a house phone, usually in the kitchen. Whoever was closest picked it up. After a few words, it would get handed off to the call's intended usually after someone shouted, "Phone!" Today, my kids dont move a muscle when our landline rings. 

We're all reliant on our own devices. For me, that's an iPhone, laptop, and desktop computer. But I don't use any of those to reach out to the people on the periphery of my own social network. A great example: my in-laws. Sure, we're congenial at the Thanksgiving table, but we don't call one another. Apart from semiannual visits, ours was the sort of relationship kept intact when I served as an intermediary for communications with my wife by phone. 

Or consider the case of your daughter's boyfriend or your son's girlfriend. Remember how you used to get your first impression of him or her? Their phone manner. ("Hello, Mr. Smir-na-coff?") You immediately knew if he was courteous. ("May I please speak with...?") You knew if he had personality. ("Did you hear the one about...?") You got a hunch as to whether he was appropriate. ("Oh, no, sir, I would never dream of...") And whether he was smart. ("I loved your commentary on...") Now, you've never heard of him until he shows up at the front door. 

It's the same with your kids' entire social circle. And your husband's boss. And your wife's book club. The only person who gets to know these people is the one who deals directly with them. But those days are over. Who knew the old rotary dial was the axle through which all the spokes in the family and social network were connected?