Recently I had the pleasure of sitting near a very talkative 6-year-old during a long train journey. She wasn’t talking to me, thankfully. (Due to health, I don’t have the stamina to maintain a young child’s conversation level for more five minutes at a time. From six minutes onward I start looking out for any family member who can take over for me while I have a little lie down and a half hour of quiet.) She was chatting very happily to a teenager she had made friends with in the next row. They shared a window and so were conversing through the little gap between glass and seat.
One of the first things that occurred to me was how difficult it is to keep a child’s attention when in a fast-moving train, especially a child you have only just met. The usual stand-by game my grandmother always employed during times of tedium, I Spy, is completely useless in a speeding train. “I spy something beginning with–oh, never mind, we’ve passed it already.”
Thankfully the little girl I was eavesdropping on was a self-starter in the conversation topic department. She told personal details, stories, and so forth, as well as peppering the conversation with questions such as “What’s your name?” which was followed by an endearingly honest admission by the little girl that she wouldn’t remember the name in question and would just substitute one she found easier to recall.
The girl herself had bright, dancing blue eyes and a true “shock” of short red hair which was thick and curly and looked unlikely to be tamed for years to come. She was accompanied by a patient father who took advantage of the girl’s conversation with someone other than himself to get in a few games of Candy Crush on his smart phone while he had the time. Her other companion was a small brown and yellow stuffed toy dog, whose name seemed to continually change depending on the girl’s mood at the time (Spot, Gruff, Robbie, Squeal-something).
The dog’s usage also changed.
About halfway through the conversation, the little girl’s dog suddenly became a smart phone. “Excuse me,” she said to the girl in the next row mid-conversation, “I have to text. I have to work on my phone now but I can still talk to you while I do it.” And away she went pushing imaginary buttons on the dog’s fluffy little tummy as she continued her conversation with a teenager who had (ironically) never looked at her phone once in the entire time I’d been watching them.
A moment later, her texting presumably finished, she held up her dog and “took a picture” of the girl she was talking to and then verbally wondered who she could send the photo too. While she was busy with that, her “boyfriend” messaged her and she had to take care of further texting while the conversation continued.
I can only assume that the little girl has a teenage sister whom she has studied closely (as all children do) and was doing a perfect imitation of her.
I found the whole act fascinating. I have of course watched many children pretend to use telephones. My brother in his formative years used the dismembered tail of a wooden crocodile toy as a mobile phone. He also used to call bananas “hello hellos” because when distributing the fruit in question my mother would hold the banana up to her ear and say, “Hello, hello? Who is it? Oh! It’s for you!” and hand it to my brother. It must have been an earth-shattering day when he discovered she had been practicing on his credulous simplicity and that the signal strength of the banana is virtually nil.
So, as I say, children pretending to have phones is not new. But I had never seen a child imagine up a smart phone with such detail.
And yet, what really caught my attention, was that when her stuffed-dog-come-smart-phone rang, the little girl vocalized it as, “Ring, ring!”
It made me wonder when in the child’s living memory she would have come across a phone that went ring ring. Do mobile phones nowadays make that sound? And if they don’t (which I would have said they didn’t), what form of onomatopoeia will the next generation use to describe the actual noises our phones make? Brr brr when on silent? The shrill bing when receiving an sms?
Perhaps ring ring is becoming one of those sounds that we just use even though we know it’s nothing like the sound we’re trying to reproduce. After all, smart phone rings now are so numerous and melodic that there really isn’t a word we could form to properly do them justice.