From party lines to selfies

Do you ever think about how much telephone technology has changed over the years?  Even over the past decade with all the smart phone advances…. simply mind boggling.

Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s most every home had a stationary telephone.  Attached to the wall by a long cord.  I remember a time when we merely lifted the handset and waited for the operator to answer:  “Operator”,  and then we’d give her the name of the person we wanted to talk to. “Connect me to so and so”.  Just that simple.

My sister was actually a telephone operator back in the day.  It was a very cool job.  Being a phone operator probably required strong vocal cords and a pleasant speaking voice. And at times nerves of steel.  My sister tells a story of the time she took a call from someone reporting that our home was in flames.  So I guess phone operators were the original 911 dispatchers, too.

And then, wonder of wonders, along came the rotary dial.  The beginning of a technological explosion for Ma Bell. And the beginning of the end for telephone operators, I would imagine.

During my grade school years the Bell Telephone Company would periodically send out a rep to our little town’s elementary school.   The rep would do an in-class presentation on how to operate the fancy new rotary telephone.  He would set up phones that would actually ring and each student would practice answering the call politely.  “Always say Hello when answering a phone call” “The caller always needs to give their name once someone answers.”   Phone etiquette.  We learned about phone etiquette in grade school, but it was actually pretty elusive in daily life.

Party lines were a definite factor in the demise of phone etiquette.

Regularly you would pick up the phone to make a call and hear conversations of the other folks on your line.  I think we shared a party line with two other homes.  You could hear a conversation and quickly/quietly hang up.  And you could find yourself repeatedly clicking the hang-up button on a party line conversation after you’d picked up the phone several times trying to make a call.    And… could, if you were brave, interrupt the conversation with something like “I need to make a call, how much longer are you going to be on this line?”.   The word  politely may or may not describe this whole party line scenario.  It wasn’t much of a “party” most of the time. Well, unless you could get by with listening in on a really interesting private conversation.  Not that I know from experience.  😇

I remember a day when hearing the phone ring was really exciting and we might even race across the room to see who could reach the phone first.  Wow. Fast forward a few years. Our phone rings and even though it’s probably right there in our hand, we often choose not to answer at all unless we recognize the number on caller ID.  Just let it go to voice mail. Or send a text, for crying out loud. The mystique and appeal of Alexander Graham Bell’s marvelous invention has worn thin I guess.

And now, our phones are smarter than we are.

My folks passed away before cell phones were even a gleam in Dr Martin Cooper’s eyes.  (yes, I googled “inventor of cell phones” just now….on my smart phone).  Often I try to imagine what my folks would think of phones in this day and age. “Well, Mom, first thing I do when I wake up is pick up my phone and look at it intently for several minutes before I even get out of bed.”  (Of course she’s picturing a rotary phone like in the above picture and wondering why I would ever want to pick it up and look at it)  “And then of course I carry it with me wherever I go throughout the day.  And sometimes I’ll use it to take pictures of myself on Snapchat looking like a puppy with its tongue hanging out, then I’ll send that picture to my hubby while he’s at work.”  “How old am I, you ask?  Oh, I’m in my 60’s.  All grown up.  I guess.”

Oh what you started, Mr. Bell and Mr Cooper.  What could possibly be next in the evolution of the telephone? Google and Siri probably already know.    That’s just how smart they are

3 thoughts on “From party lines to selfies

  1. At Pioneer Village I told J & j that Aunt Wilma used to be a phone operator, then proceeded to show j how to use the switchboard! I forgot all about thefire story though. Thanks for the trip diwn technology lane. Jo


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