The Mountain Times

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Make a note of it

Edward Snowden is in a heap of trouble. He apparently blew the whistle on the good old USA and the fact that the NSA is eavesdropping on our phone calls and emails. Frankly, this news didn't shock me at all. I guarantee the government has no interest in my FaceTime chats with my grandson or the covert emails with my college buds as we plan an annual reunion.

When I think about the advances in communication technology during my lifetime, it makes my head spin faster than Knucklehead Smiff's. Our conversations are now pinging off cell towers and our written communications float around cyberspace just waiting to be picked up by hackers. It is impossible to keep any communication private, so I practice the same policy I always preached to my girls - don't say or write anything about anybody that you aren't willing to say to their face.

Pre-technology life was certainly simpler. People actually spoke to each other face-to-face. If you had some news to share, you went to "the corner" where everyone congregated after dinner. You didn't have to call or text anyone beforehand to confirm they would be there. It was the best part of the day.

In my pre-teen years, the only time I used our phone was when it was my turn to say hello to grandma during our weekly call to her. She was a long-distance number though she lived less than an hour away, at least as the crow flies. When you had to maneuver Sunrise Highway or the Southern State Parkway from Long Island to Queens, it may have taken a little longer.

We called her once a week, typically on Saturday night. Mom would announce she was making the call which signaled my sister and me to be close by. There were times mom let us talk first and then we were off the hook (no pun intended). But at other times, grandma drew mom into conversation quickly and we were in standby mode for an extended length of time. This meant there was serious family gossip or one of the neighbors was in the hospital. But the length of the call also depended on where we stood on the monthly allotment of message units - the phone company's method back then for bill calculation.

Once I officially crossed over into the teens, communication became a huge portion of my social life. During the school day, it was the note. Writing and passing notes in school was not as easy a task as you might think.  In the 8th grade, I was still attending Catholic grammar school. We were required to use composition notebooks - the black and white marbled covers with paper secured to the spine with a blue string.

I don't think spiral notebooks had even been invented yet. With a spiral, you could rip out a piece of paper and then tediously remove all the little tags that remained thereby removing any evidence of a missing page. Not so with a composition notebook. A missing page was quite noticeable and forbidden by the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

Your only hope was having loose leaf paper. A missing leaf could easily go undetected though you had to make sure you didn't run out. When Sister said, "Take out a sheet of loose leaf paper for a quiz," you had better have one available.

Writing a note during class was nearly impossible. Most note writing during this time happened on the school bus, during recess or at home. Trying to pass a note in the classroom at St. Anne's School was trickier than pulling off a Brink's robbery. Most of us did not even attempt it for fear of the repercussions.

When I got to public high school, however, note writing was practically an elective. If you excelled in multi-tasking, you could compose a note while listening to a lecture. You just needed to have the timing right so it gave the appearance of jotting down important facts that would later show up on a test. When the note was complete, you carefully creased and folded it in the same fashion as a military flag.

Passing notes in high school was a breeze because you changed classes. You simply slipped it into the hands of a friend as you passed in the hallway. If you were lucky, you received one in return and now you had reading material for your next class.
There was an art in strategically placing the handwritten piece of paper inside your text book so you could peruse it without detection. But there were still those times when you got caught red-handed and the note was confiscated or worse yet, you were forced to read it out loud to the entire class. Now there was the ultimate invasion of privacy.

Today I am an open book, no secret conversations or letters that need to be kept under lock and key. The NSA would be pretty bored with my communication though my grandson thinks it is pretty important stuff. So I don't feel the least bit unsecure, that is unless the government picks up Elmo or Mickey Mouse as code names.

Cindy Phillips is a freelance writer for The Mountain Times. She can be reached directly at