Monday, November 20, 2006

Nostalgia Moment Number One: Do You Remember Rotary Dial Phones?


I was chatting with my freshman class today; these girls were born in 1992, mind you. They don't have to memorize phone numbers, because the digits are all stowed in the memories of the girls' cell phones. They don't have to summon up those digits that we once had to match up to individual faces and names. And when they want to dial a friend, they just press speed dial. They've never known anything but this extreme convenience.
And suddenly I began to feel nostalgic for the sound of a rotary dial phone, a pleasure these girls will never experience. The dragging of the number to the finger slot, and then the release: the zip-whirr, zip-whirr of seven separate numbers--and oh the terrible wait when that phone number was full of nines! Remember the agony of how long that dialing took when you had important news to share? And yet, perhaps out of sheer egotism, I can't help but feel that somehow these children are missing out. Are they? Or is that just my projection of importance onto my own age?
But I do understand, more each year, the lure of nostalgia, and why all those tv shows and personalities from the 60s and 70s are becoming the products of the 2000s. If I can't give my child a piece of my past, by golly I can sure buy it for him! :)
I suppose as writers we have a real gift, because we can go back whenever we want, even live there for a while, through our characters. So I wonder if I can plan an entire mystery around a rotary dial phone . . . .

8 comments:

Lonnie Cruse said...

Oh boy do I remember! I was dialing someone, way back when, (when I still lived at home) and the rotary dial slowly ground to a stop and died. We had to get a new phone. I'd never heard of that happening before.

I'm always amazed at the number of people in malls and department stores, chatting on cell phones, even though I do it. Sigh, most of the things that amaze us older folks are common to the younger generation.

Julia Buckley said...

I have to tell you, Lonnie, I haven't invested in a cell phone yet, although my husband has. I just don't seem to want one, although they're undeniably convenient.

And I've never heard of a rotary dial dying! I always thought those old machines were indestructible. Today it's all about planned obsolescence.

Deb Baker said...

And we had party lines, meaning we shared with another household or two (boy, am I dating myself). So to make a call, we had to lift the receiver and listen. If the other party was chatting away, we had to wait until they were through. Sometimes we really heard good stuff!

Julia Buckley said...

I think that's parallel, in a way, to the Instant Messaging kids do today via computer; apparently, it's easy to get one's lines crossed and send the wrong message to the wrong person, or even sort of "listen in" visually on someone else's message. But I could be translating this improperly, since I don't IM and my students do.

Bill Cameron said...

When I was about 18-months old, my dad was playing Tickle Monster with me, and in a fit of mad giggles apparently I reached over my head to the end table, got hold of the phone and proceeded to bash my father in the head with it. By all accounts, I thought it was part of the game, but my poor dad was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion.

Those phones had some heft, didn't they? Hit someone in the head with today's phones and the phone would shatter and the person would glance up and say, "Did you want something?"

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Our rotary phone hung on the wall in the kitchen. Even the receiver was heavy. And we didn't own the phone...the phone company charged a small monthly rental fee.

I've never owned a cell phone either, Julia. I had to use my sister-in-law's cell last month and she laughed at me because I didn't know how to make it work.

When I first moved to Maine in 1983, our house was on a party-line with two other homes. Each home had a distinctive ring pattern so you'd know when the calls were for someone else, but there was really nothing to stop you from picking up the receiver and listening in. Private lines didn't come to our part of town until 1985.

Julia Buckley said...

That's amazing, Sean. It doesn't seem that long ago, and yet look how primitive we must seem to young people now.

Julia Buckley said...

I have one of those rotary phones in my study. It still works, we had it in use for a while last year. Eventually though, after dialing one too many wrong numbers, my partner put his foot down and installed a 'proper' phone with buttons.

I still sometimes plug it in and phone my friends on it though...

UK JB
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