Growing up in the 1960’s, communicating by telephone was pretty straightforward: you had a landline, in any color you wanted as long as it was black. It had a rotary dial, and a loud ring that sounded the same on every phone. There was one phone company, in our case Northwestern Bell, and they took care of any issues that arose. You could call a number on said landline and get the day and time in an automated recording, and if you needed help with a call there were human beings called operators that would assist. It was a simpler time.
My best friend lived about six blocks away, so we occasionally had to call each other. This was stressful because her dad was a doctor, and if he was on call, which seemed to be all the time, you could only chat for about a minute. Call waiting didn’t exist. Long distance calls were a rarity because they were expensive. The phone company charged by the minute for them, so even though my grandparents only lived about 45 minutes away, it was in our neighboring state of Iowa. So a phone call was rare unless there was some type of emergency.
This all worked pretty well until I was in middle school. By then, phone calls with friends were frequent, and in my case, usually quite long. Phones were evolving, and came in new colors and styles. We had a wall mounted model in our kitchen that I used for most of my calls by stretching the cord on the receiver as far as possible, and sitting on the steps to the basement with the door closed. Luckily, the phone company came out with a new product called a Teen Line- a separate phone number, and phone, that kids could have in their rooms. That was a fabulous thing for someone like me who liked to talk a lot, and I spent way too much time in my room on the phone. There were also “touch tone” numbers instead of rotary dials. So sleek, and modern!
Fast forward to the 1990’s, and the advent of cell phones. Most people my age thought they looked like the “shoe phone” used by Maxwell Smart in the 1960’s tv show about a bumbling spy. I wasn’t an early adopter of the new technology, but eventually got a flip phone. It was easy to use, since you just flipped it open and close to answer. No text messaging. It was convenient and saved time when making appointments and cut down on phone tag. The bill was based on minutes used, and I didn’t use very many.
Enter the game changing phone of the century when smart phones appeared on the scene in the 2000’s. These sleek, multi use cell phones were revolutionary, and the features were plentiful- texting, music, internet access, touch screens, and voice commands. If the flip phones were easy, the smart phones were the polar opposite. I found the keyboard too small, and many of the functions counterintuitive. The voice commands were garbled, at best. Saying ” Where is the nearest gas station?” could be met with “Did you say call Elaine”? After a few of those, you might be tempted to yell at the phone or use choice words. That didn’t work either. So I fumbled along with my new smart phone and eventually learned how to use it. Most of the time.
On one memorable occasion, my new smart phone and I were in line at a restaurant that specialized in salads. You walked down an assembly line, ordered your greens and toppings, and paid at the end. One day, I was next up at the cashier when my phone rang. And it was on full volume mode. Without my reading glasses, I attempted to pay for my food, decline the call, pop the phone back in my purse, and take my tray to a table. It quit ringing, but somehow I had turned on my music streaming feature. And what was playing? A peppy number like something from the Beach Boys? An edgy tune from Black Sabbath? Of course not. I walked to my table to the very loud strains of Marvin Gaye’s classic, Let’s Get it On. And that is about the only set of lyrics for the entire song. Good grief.
But my favorite cell phone story goes back to the flip phone days. The lack of reading glasses affects this incident too. I hadn’t had my flip phone very long and was driving north on a moderately busy road when I saw what I thought was my husband driving south. It was a two lane road with stop lights, so we weren’t going that fast, and I was sure it was him. When I got to the next stop light, I dialed his phone without my glasses on. The conversation went like this:
Male voice: Hello
Me: I saw you on 114th Street. You can run, but you can’t hide.
Male voice: What?
Me (realizing I have no idea who this is): Sorry- I dialed the wrong number.
Male voice: That’s ok. By the way, I don’t know who you are, but I think I’d like to meet you.
I got off the phone so quickly I almost damaged it.
After reading this, it will come as no surprise that I don’t own one of the personal assistants that are on the market. Something about a disembodied voice talking to me and running the household isn’t appealing. If they come up with one that can make dinner or do dishes, I’m in. Until then, I will turn the lights on and off, and use my phone for everything else. Assuming it is charged and I know where it is!
PS- Thank you one and all for reading and following the blog after my first post. So glad you are enjoying it, because I am having a lot of fun writing it.
5 thoughts on “Landlines, and Flip Phones, and Smart Phones, Oh My!”
You are too young to remember Party Lines, which we had on 35 St and a while on 38 St. I got an extension in my room on 38 St.
That was a big deal and a nice reward for Cinderella
Number was Glendale 6308
Did you get a Princess Phone?
My iPhone has updated Siri and I can’t figure it out….
My phone was indeed a princess style, powder blue to match my room. You are correct I don’t recall party lines. So much for privacy!
We had a party line with the older couple next door. Just think about all the busy signals people calling our next door neighbors must have gotten!
Enjoyed this very much. I too remember party lines and even before that we had a wall mounted phone that you had to crank so the operator would pick up. Then you had verbally tell her (always women) the person you wanted. If it was on the same exchange no number was needed but if it was outside the exchange then you had to give a number. And anybody on your party line could listen in. And if someone on your party line was using the phone you could not use your own phone except to listen in to the neighbor. Thanks for the memories.
No wonder we all played the telephone game at our childhood birthday parties!