When I was a kid in the 1950s and ’60s a phone call was usually for something important, as in a death in the family or a medical emergency. Since my mother was the youngest of 12, we received many of the former. As time passed and telephony improved, rates decreased and we got closer to the cellphone age, phone calls were more frequent and not every one was as emotionally laden, but one of them arrived in 2006 – just before I got my first cellphone – and I missed it.

My wife and I had just returned from North Carolina and checked the answering machine. There it was – a call from my sister. “Come to Inland Hospital as soon as you can! Mom is dying!”

I arrived at the hospital a few minutes later to find our 89-year-old mother on life support, gasping for breath. The attending physician was unwilling to pull the plug and her primary care doctor was out of town. The nurses, my sister and I all agreed that her suffering should end, so the next morning I was able to talk on the phone to her doctor, who concurred and agreed to a merciful end. The machines were turned off and 15 minutes later, Mom passed.

Mr. Bell’s invention has saved countless lives and ended thousands as well. Nine-one-one was created during my lifetime. My use of it when stuck in a blizzard in 2009 saved me, and my granddaughter’s use of it when I had a heart attack in 2011 also saved me. Billions of people worldwide feel connected and conduct business, manage affairs, communicate love and hate and make friends and enemies with it.

The easy connectivity has resulted in a modern curse – the dreaded robocall – but in spite of my increasingly curmudgeonly attitude toward many aspects of life, I still react when I hear the ring by thinking, “Ah, a phone call.”

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