The Evolution of Phones is written by Christine Blankenship, Publisher of Vibrant Senior Options Resource Guide. This article is published in the Spring/Summer 2023 Edition of Vibrant Senior Options Resource Guide.
It all started out with poles and lines along the road and rotary phones on the kitchen counter. Yes, the Party Lines. If an older sister or a neighbor wasn’t already on the phone, I could call my friends in the next town. This was the day of one phone per household and one line per neighborhood. To dial the next county we had to call a phone operator, who was an actual human being! To dial another country the process was the same, except for a lower sound and a higher bill.
Technology for the Neighborhood Gosip
As great as it was to “Reach Out and Touch Someone,” these early phone lines had issues. My mother found it disturbing when the neighbor – we’ll call her Mrs. B. – was asking Mom about how one of her kid’s doctor appointment went that morning. Whoa! Outside the immediate household, only the doctor’s office knew about that appointment. Of course, this had been arranged over the phone. Mrs. B. mysteriously seemed to know about it.
There was another neighbor who was eavesdropping from farther down the road. This nosey and noisy kid seemed to think that no one could hear his breathing and humming. We’ll call this teenager Kid M. One day Mrs. B. complained to my mother that the Kid M. “always listened in on everyone’s phone calls.” What comes around, goes around.
Now We are Private
Then the “private” lines came in, and Mother thought nothing of the cost! The long-distance fees went up. Alas, neighborhood gossip eased down. No more strange sounds from the Kid M. Finally, we could have a private conversation on the phone.
Remember the “private” Phone Booths? Just put a dime in the coin slot, to call for help anytime. This worked when we could find a booth and a dime. Where would Superman be without the old phone booth?
Technology Goes Remote
As noted by the Washington Post, “1973 saw the first cellular telephone call – made from a giant brick of a thing that weighed more than two pounds and provided just 30 minutes of talking time after a 10-hour charging cycle.” (www.washingtonpost.com, September 9, 2014) These were mostly used for military communications.
Sometime in the 1980’s, phones did not stay tied to a wall. Eventually, we could walk away from the wall and keep talking. No more phone cord tangles! This remote freedom was great, until you stepped outside only to lose the phone signal. Bummer.
Remember the days when our phones let callers hear a busy signal when we were already busy with another call? Now we have Call Waiting, which lets incoming callers hear the “ring” signal, and you hear an incoming clicking sound while you’re already talking to someone else. A great way to never miss a call again! Simply push the “hold” button to put the first caller on hold, then push the “answer” button to talk to the next, incoming caller. Is it just me or has anyone else frequently lost both callers this way? Another bummer.
Remote Reaches Beyond the Horizon
The remote phones finally traveled beyond the house, office, neighborhood, and even beyond the horizon. As noted above, first there were the large, expensive cell phones. But it wasn’t many years before the prices and size came down. Access and usage of today’s cell phones have grown to almost one per adult with constant and instant phone capacity. With this technology comes the ability to send short “texts” to each other. We now can send and call from the middle of anywhere and nowhere. Then there is the Video Chat function…
Phone technologies have significantly expanded our electronic communication options! But what are the results of this personal and social expansion? I say “social” tongue-in-cheek, because, as a society, our ability to really talk face to face seems to have diminished. At the same time, something out there, called “Google” or “Alexa” or “Cortana” makes me wonder who might be eavesdropping on my electronic conversation. Our modern means of constant communication is littered with advertising hum and social media distractions galore!
Maybe the old Party Lines weren’t so bad after all.
Christine Blankenship, Publisher
Vibrant Senior Options