Anyone else annoyed at all the phone commercials on TV these days? Is a phone really a good Christmas gift? A friend recently posted on Facebook that she “wants to know why the kid on the radio shack commercial has a better phone than she does.”
When I was little, we had a heavy black phone in our living room. To call Gramma and Grampa I picked up the receiver and the operator said, “Number, please.” I replied, “3303” and waited to be connected to Gramma. (I still remember my grandparents number 3303 and that helps me remember the Pizza Hut number which is 3033.)
Sometime later the city of Washington upgraded their phone systems. A new dial phone, which was still black and heavy, was installed. Now we were in charge of dialing the correct number. Ours was 283-2613. But, you didn’t have to dial the whole number. 3-2613 was sufficient. Unless, of course, you were on a party line. A party line was cheaper and you shared the line with your neighbors. This meant that you had to be very careful when you picked up the phone. You had to listen first – without really listening – to see if someone was already using the phone. If you heard the dial tone, then you could begin dialing. And, if someone was talking, you needed to hang up the phone immediately. The person talking could hear when the receiver was picked up, and conversation was often stopped until you hung up again. A party line also meant that you had to be considerate and not talk on the phone for long periods of time. I do remember talking to someone and having a neighbor yell at me to get off the phone because she had to make a call. I’m pretty sure party lines were why the preacher often stressed the ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ verse.
We shared a line with my grandparents who lived next door. They were the people that we called the most and you had to have the knack to call someone on the party line. For Gramma and Grampa, I dialed 9-8-309-283-2338, then depressed the receiver button halfway down until my phone rang. When my phone rang, theirs did too. You had to lift the receiver button in time to hear them say ‘Hello?’ but you also had to let it ring long enough for them to get there. Sometimes, it was just faster to run over and talk to them. And, if Grampa handed out the pink wintergreen candies, it was even better.
While I was away at college, the phone company did away with party lines (in the Washington area) and managed another upgrade which changed our prefix from 283 to 444. This meant having to relearn all the numbers previously memorized. To this day when I want to call my uncle, I say his number with a 3 first, then mentally change it to 4. His number just had a special ring to it.
I don’t remember the phone ringing too much when I was growing up. There was a time on Friday nights when we would get prank phone calls. Our last name is Presley, so people would call asking for Elvis. Then they snickered. It was rather frustrating. Finally, I learned how to handle the prank call. When people would call and ask for Elvis, I would reply, “Sure, hang on . . . Hey Dad! It’s for you.” He who snickers last . . . Of course, being awakened at 2:00 a.m. was rather annoying.
When I lived in Colorado I worked for Mountain Bell. What fun to see the faces of people building expensive homes up in the mountains when I said we could put in a party line for them in 4 months. For some people, I even had to explain what a party line was. (They thought it was political!)
I had a replica of an old wall dial phone on my kitchen wall when the kids were little. A few years ago my niece was over and wanted to spend the night. I told her to call and ask her parents. She ran to the phone, picked up the receiver, and stood looking at the phone. She turned to me and said, “Auntie, I’d love to call my parents, but I don’t know how this thing works.” After showing her how to dial (rather than push buttons) she said, “Whew, that’s a lot of work.”
Then came mobile phones. As I was following a school bus to a basketball game somewhere in the middle of nowhere going to small-town Illinois, it dawned on me that if I had car trouble, no one would know where I was and I would not be able to get anywhere by walking. The next day I signed up for a mobile phone – a bag phone which sat on the floor of my car plugged into the cigarette lighter. The phone was rarely used but I felt safer.
I can’t remember all the phones I had after that bag phone. Phones got smaller, more colorful, more unique, and more annoying. As my girls can attest, you can call me on my cell phone, but if you want to talk to me right away, call me at work or at home. It can be days before I see that you called me if you dial the cell number. And even if I hear it ring, it can be days before I find it in my purse. I am completely different from my daughters who have the phone close by, use it to call, to text, to search the Internet, or to get directions. My phone doesn’t even do all those things.
Phones are a great invention. Thanks, Alexander.
But, as with anything in life, let’s make sure that we learn moderation. Can you set the phone down and walk away for a few hours? You just might be surprised at what you are missing!
Now, if we could just get a little moderation in all those phone commercials. . .