Weekly Geek Bit: Ancient Phone History

21 Mar

um.... Operator?

Last time I talked about dial-up internet, and somewhat tied to that is the history of the phone.  While I didn’t exist when the old school candlestick phones and switchboards were around, I did learn how to call home on a rotary phone (aka bat phone).  They sucked.  For one, the worst part was dialing 9 or 0, because the whole freaking rotary circle had to click around before you could put the next number in.  Waiting was pretty annoying back then, and it was like a prize when you called someone with lots of 1’s, 2’s or 3’s in their number, because you could call it so quick.

By JacksonScott at en.wikipedia, from Wikimedia Commons

There was also the issue before answering machines existed, where people would take messages on note pads “While you were out”.  Answering machines have gotten rid of this once-common household item, though they do still exist in offices if a colleague or secretary picks up the phone for you.  I found a twitter sheet that’s pretty similar to how it would have been without phones.  Enjoy:

Then answering machines showed up, recording messages on cassette tapes (do I need to go into these? Please say no…).  You had to rewind the tape if you wanted to replay the message, and if it filled up, you either had to get a new tape or record over old messages.  I wonder if any old message tapes have made their way to YouTube….
When cell phones came around, my family wasn’t rich enough to get the old-school bricks.  But my mother did get a pretty fat one when they got cheaper, and it was pretty cool.  Still, the price of a phone and the associated plan was way more expensive than a couple quarters in a pay phone.  (who uses pay phones nowadays, anyways?)   For those of you with little experience with pay phones, the secret was to call, and if no one answered, to quickly hang up before the answering machine picked up.  If you did it in time, the phone would refund you your quarter, and you could try again.  Best way to save money, evar?
And there were things called “call boxes” on the highway, used for stranded motorists or accidents, so that they could call emergency services back before everyone had a mobile phone in their car.  Though most have been removed due to cost, I recall seeing one  stretch of highway near Cleveland last year that still had these motorist assistance boxes.  Expect them to go extinct soon, as well.
But back to my family, I put off getting a phone until I was nearly out of college.  We had free land lines in school, and that was enough to call anyone I needed to.  We also used AOL Instant Messenger back then… it was pretty much the way to talk to anyone before Twitter happened.  Hell, I still log into AIM every day, though my buddy list is only 6 long nowadays.  Once I got a phone, I never really needed it until I got a job, and when I traveled.  It was okay, but I didn’t even bother learning to text message until 2007.  I know, I was way behind the curve.
Now, I have an iPhone, am getting deeper into Twitter every month, and honestly look back at my childhood and wonder how insanely different it would be with stuff like kids have today.  I wouldn’t end up crying when I couldn’t get in touch of my dad from school via a pay phone, wondering if he was going to pick me up or if I was stranded.  I would have probably had more friends, but more cyber bullying through my phone, too.  I think that bullying would have kept me offline more than any reason to go online, though, so maybe it wouldn’t have been that different, after all.
What technology did you grow up with?  What is indispensable now, and what do you miss about ‘back in the day’?

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