I remember, when I was a young boy living on a farm in Oklahoma, that the telephones that my folks used were on party lines. That meant that multiple people were on the same line and often some of the people that shared the line chose to listen to other’s calls.
At that time you couldn’t dial using a rotary or digital pad, you cranked your telephone and the number of cranks indicated whom you wanted to talk to. Our number was two longs and a short. That meant you cranked several turns, paused, cranked several turns again and then a short crank to reach our house. The cranking caused a bell on your telephone to ring. Actually it caused all telephones on the party line to ring.
The telephones were large boxes hanging on the wall with a receiver you removed from the phone and you talked into a transmitter on the front of the box. When you picked up the receiver to answer, sometimes you could here other clicks. That meant that there were other listeners on the line who wanted to pick up on the local gossip or to gather new information that they could gossip about.
There was absolutely no privacy in that small community of Oklahoma that I lived in and certainly no privacy on the telephone. Of course there wasn’t television at that time and this must have been the way many got their entertainment before ‘The Days Of Our Lives” came along.
Well living in Oklahoma at that time reminds me of living in Panama at this time. Only now the telephone party line has been replaced with Yahoo Panama Groups. These groups have many of the same attributes. You will find some valid and helpful information there and you will find a lot of bickering, sarcasm and out and out fights.
And just like the old party lines, there are those that don’t contribute, but just sit back and watch all the action. In the vocabulary of the Internet these people are called “Lurkers”. It is easy to see why many remain in the shadows when you see all the negativism that comes forth in the new Yahoo party lines. Many people would like to get to know others and ask questions, but after watching all the fighting and back stabbing, they just think it is better to stay quiet.
Now another sad thing about these new party lines is that a lot of Panamanian’s wind up being the lurkers and are shocked and amazed by their new gringo friends or potential friends or maybe no-way-in-hell friends. At the same time many other gringos, that are considering retirement in some of these Panama communities, are taken back by the goings on in these groups. They find themselves questioning whether they would be making a mistake by moving into such a community and having some of the Yahoo Party line participants as neighbors.
I can understand the frustration of new members who have questions and know that the commercial websites about Panama are mostly propaganda and want to get some information from others that have made the leap. For these new members the Yahoo groups offer an opportunity to get a glimpse of what living in this highly promoted paradise is really like. However after visiting the Panama Yahoo groups many wind up feeling like the old Peggy Lee song and wondering, “Is that all there is”.
Ok, so what now? Well, here are my thoughts for what they are worth. To those on the party lines, I would advise having a little restraint and remember that others are forming opinions of you and Panama. Some are or will be other gringo neighbors and some are Panamanian citizens. Offending either is not the smartest thing that one can do. If you are like me and came to Panama to retire, then you should want to do it in a peaceful environment.
To those Lurkers in other countries, who are joining Yahoo groups for information, just remember that many people are different in their Internet persona than they are in real life. To the Panamanian Lurkers, I would ask you to have a little tolerance. It sometimes takes us gringos a little time to adjust to a more laid back lifestyle than we were used to in our old country. I am sure in time we will all be able to, in the words of Rodney King, “Just get along”.