Conversations in the den

It all started in the den. That was the only phone we had that sat on a desk with an old fashioned printed Rolodex of phone numbers that sat next to the phone so that we did not forget. Sometimes when you would pick up the receiver, there would talking on the line though you always hung up quickly….never listening to the party line. Or the obnoxious busy signal that could go on for a long time. You would have to hang up and try again later. There was no leaving messages and it would ring and ring and ring if nobody picked up the phone. Presumably, no one was home. You couldn’t be sure what number you dialed either. No screens, no caller id. You didn’t have to dial….that is right…dial the area code but in Chicago it was BAYPORT 5-5936 which was actually BA that you dialed or Essex 2-7390 which was ES. Some were three letters with four numbers.They were considered different automatic exchanges  That was the phone of the 1960’s. And in some small towns in Illinois, there was actually an operator that you talked to first and she would connect you to who you were calling.

I always wanted a princess phone when I was 12. Never did get one as a pre-teen or high school student but actually found one at an antique store that my daughter wants.

Hand held mobiles were introduced in the 1970’s but very expensive and seldom used. A traditional landline telephone did become push button phones instead of dial and it was the answering machine that you bought to attach to your phone still available today but much more streamlined. My Panasonic was large and ran on tapes that would sometimes run out of room to record calls if I got too many. You had to record a message and again, no caller id.

In the early 1990s, I did have a business cell phone that was huge and plugged into my car as well as a pager. And it was then that voicemail became popular. In fact, I actually worked for company called CommuniTech in which I traveled to businesses throughout the United States to train them on the use of voicemail. No emails then… just voicemail and people were excited. They could leave a message through their company voicemail. They could set up their own voicemail message on each phone and I would train them on how to do this. I would train company users on the type of messages they could record and keep. I would also train administrators how to run the voicemail system helping recording many company greetings that included. Eli Lily, Center for Disease Control, and United Airlines to name just a few. Voicemail etiquette was extremely important to emphasis.

Today, people cannot live without their cell phone. Mine died one night and we had one hour to check it out and buy a new one before the store closed. An early Christmas present this year. And we don’t have a land line anymore and I do like my phone. If I am bored, waiting for something….I can play Solitaire easily. Solitaire truly helps me remain patient.

I can take pictures without having another camera device. And with a cell,there is no reason for someone not to get back to me.  As I age, that is important to me and I love texting. Never was much of a talker on the phone so texting is the best for the writer. I like not being tied to a cord attached to a wall. And my phone goes with me whenever I leave home. It is my map on the road and has made my life easier. As someone said, it is a guardian angel in case of a friend, family or me emergency. Yes, there are many that are too addicted to technology but what a different world we have now.

We don’t have to pick up a receiver in only one room in the house and wait for our neighbor to stop talking.


Forever changing culture-our phones

By Caryl Clem:

On March 7, 1876 the son of a hearing impaired mother and instructor of elocution father patented a device to transmit sound.  On March 10, 1876, a ground breaking first-phone call from Alexander Bell to his electronics assistant, Mr. Watson was executed. Alexander Graham Bell had the simple desire to transmit sounds. He was a Professor instructing deaf mutes in Boston, Massachusetts. His beloved wife was an ex-student.

Fast forward a few decades while the marketing of the telephone for business and consumer use was growing by leaps and bounds.  From an article entitled, Telephone Tribute, the first directory had 21 listings in 1878, by 1900 over 856,000 telephones were in use.  1881 – Mr. Eckert, who ran a telephone company in Cincinnati, said he preferred the use of females to males as operators. “Their service is much superior to that of men or boys. They are much steadier, do not drink beer nor use profanity, and are always on hand.”  As inventions increase distance and quality, owning telephones becomes a priority instead of a luxury. Telephones symbolize overcoming communication distance with speed. Compared to the horse and carriages, early cars, and mail of the early 1900’s, a phone call seemed like a lightning bolt.

American music even reflects the impact of the telephone. Glenn Miller in 1940 releases Pennsylvania 6-5000, a popular jazz ensemble piece.  By the 1940’s code exchanges were developed to aid remembering a phone number. I grew up in a northern suburb of Chicago, during the 1950’s and I recall using MAjestic 3, and ONtario 6.  By the 1970’s, phone use was taken for granted.  From an Oscar winning hit  written by Stevie Wonder, “ I Just Called To Say I Love You “ 1984, or “Last Call” song  by Lee Ann Womack in 2008, and “ Hello” by Adele in 2015, demonstrates phone use remains a part of our lifestyle.  If interested, there are 100 songs with telephones as a theme through the decades.

Superman needed to change his clothes in a phone booth, not to mention the unforgettable adventure in 1989 of Bill and Ted in a phone booth traveling through time.  Movies such as Midnight Cowboy and The Birds have various phone booth shots. The first phone booth was in a bank in 1889, and the customer paid for the call after its completion. Within a span of 10 years, the new improved telephone booth used a prepaid system that stuck.  The first outdoor booth was present in 1905. The glass door models I hunted for while in college in the late 1960’s were introduced during the 1950’s.   According to this author, Nathaniel Meyersohn from CNN Money Watch on March 19, 2018, 100,000 phone booths still remain. During a natural disaster pay phone use stays active while other services tend to disappear.

My favorite phone improvement (1971) was being able to turn on an answering machine.  I could screen my calls eliminating worrying about a missed call and better yet, ignoring the calls you did not want to answer.  Ironically, the answering machine was available in the 1940’s but the fear of decreasing phone use delayed product development. I spent the first 40 years of phone use worrying about the length of the cord. New York Times archives in 1983 ran an article stating that “Cordless Phones Were Catching On”. I can’t imagine feeling chained to a phone again.

A cell phone that weighed 2.5 pounds was the last game changer for phone use. Inspired by Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk who had a communicator in his hand. Martin Cooper in 1973 invented the wireless, handheld cell phone. He hoped it would increase safety and freedom for consumers.  The bulky cell phone took several years to gain popularity before Motorola introduced a winner.  Voicemail and advancing internet technology keep advancing what cell phones accomplish.

Currently Smartphones, a minicomputer at your fingertips, dominate the market. Worldwide cell phone use keeps increasing, thanks to a room to room call made on March 10, 1876.