Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart (aka Hearty)
Community news and news of great import was once printed on flyers and attached to trees (usually oak) in town/village centres. This was done to reach the widest possible audience. Gossip and scandal was spread by word of mouth. In these instances truth was always the first victim of a good story. Some consolation could be had in the non-discriminatory nature of the gossip. At some point everyone in the village was targeted, irrespective of age, sex, background, socio-economic status, religion or culture. Minority groups were catered for, as were ‘fringe’ elements.
The ‘invention’ of postcards in the mid 1900’s was a Godsend to gossip. They were open and accessible to others than their intended recipients. They were sparse in detail so content often provided the bones of a story while leaving plenty of room for imaginative embellishment (if one felt so inclined). Sometimes just the picture on the front was enough to perpetrate a scandal, and a good one at that.
Then home phones became popular – controlled and managed by switchboard operators – usually from the local post office. The technology was entirely dependent on character and personality. To place a call you had to lift the receiver, crank the handle and (depending on where you lived) wait for the operator to finish their tea/hanging the washing/attending to customers before they’d pick up. Anyone with any manners NEVER called at lunchtime or late at night, unless it was an emergency of unmitigated proportions.
You learned pretty quickly when the operator was in bad form and you learned to adapt accordingly or postpone all intended contact. If you didn’t you might not get connected. Then you had to adapt to their highly individual approaches to phone etiquette. For instances if they decided you talked too much you could get cut off in mid sentence. If they got sick waiting for you to finish you could get cut off. If they needed to be somewhere and you were still talking you could get cut off. If they detected a hint of rudeness your phone was effectively rendered useless. If you didn’t watch your language and the content of your conversation you could get in serious trouble. They might even ring your mother to complain about your manners (yes – it happened).
If you breached these codes or upset the operator and, by default, your mother, you were left with only one option. You had to ring back and apologise for your behaviour. It didn’t matter whether you were right or wrong – you sucked it up, promised there would be no repeat performance and made darn sure there wasn’t.
We learned the importance of self moderation/censorship at a very early age in my village. In hindsight that wasn’t a bad thing.
Supervising (Hacking) and sharing (leaking) were once part and parcel of community life. There were advantages and disadvantages. Fundamentally, if you adapted Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart’s advice never to “write anything you can’t put up on an oak tree” to include phone conversations you couldn’t go wrong. Lesson learned.