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