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The call of the bluephone (Nov. 1997)

Yalies, as a group, can tend toward the obsessive. For example, nothing is going to come between my roommate and law school—not even sleep. Such intense focus affects seemingly minor aspects of life here, too, as evidenced by the ongoing undergraduate obsession with communication: We are constantly checking our e-mail, stopping by our mail boxes, calling one another, or checking our voice mail.

E-mail, of course, has caused its own communications revolution, but it is the “bluephone” that is the current medium of choice among Yalies. Bluephones are boxlike telephones (painted blue, of course) attached to poles all over campus. Originally placed around campus for security purposes—and I definitely prefer the bluephone’s one-touch speed dial to the campus police over the whistle the University of Chicago gave my cousin to blow if he ever felt threatened—bluephones have now become central to student life.

Yalies have come to rely on bluephones the way English majors rely on calculators in introductory math classes. Instead of walking up a flight of stairs and knocking on the door, undergraduates now routinely use bluephones to call friends and announce their arrival—or, in my case, to plead for forgotten keys to be tossed out the suite window. Of course, the downside is that we have become incredibly lazy. And out of shape.

Most undergraduates have the voice mail service offered by the University. Now, because of the abundance of bluephones, we can check our voice mail from virtually anywhere on campus, whenever we want. And just as we walk through Yale Station or check our e-mail several times a day, we can’t resist stopping at a bluephone to see if we have any new messages. As soon as a class ends, there are always at least a handful of people—who presumably were thinking about their message status and not the lecture— making a beeline for the nearest bluephone on the way to their next class.

A bluephone is a bit like the apple in the Garden of Eden. For certain kinds of tasks, it is a temptation to be avoided at all costs. Students need to learn when not to use a bluephone. Bluephones should not, for example, be used to iron out any relationship difficulties. Since there is no handset—only an intercom-and-speaker arrangement—both ends of the conversation are readily audible to passersby, which makes intimate conversations awkward. In addition, the two-minute time limit before the phone automatically shuts off means the caller runs the risk of having the other party think he or she has hung up in disgust. A close friend of mine has tried to use bluephones to salvage more than one relationship. Currently he is single again.

Yalies use bluephones so often that I cannot imagine what Yale would be like without them. I am sure that the University would not come grinding to a halt—but I don’t think anyone would be happy about having to climb up all those extra stairs.

Filed under 1990s
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