My History with Telephones

I was in church this morning (seriously, stop laughing) and the preacher mentioned telephones. He was talking to the little kids and was telling them how he remembered a world before cell phones. This led to a conversation with the youth minister about whether or not he could remember rotary telephones. I forgot about that until just now, while reading "It was Dark, Stormy and I Lost my Serial Coma." He talked about telephones, too.

Just one year ago I bought my first "smart phone." Now, for $100 per month I can surf the internet anywhere I go. Well, except while on the toilet at work because there is virtually no signal in there at all. What's up with that? Of all the places in a building to NOT have cell reception, why have it blocked in the toilet? Are we not supposed to surf the net while sitting on the crapper? It's insane.

Anyway, prior to my expensive phone, er, smart phone, I carried a very ordinary, very basic cell phone. I still have a plan from 1997 that was offered to employees of a very large corporation where I was working. At the time it cost me $5 per month, plus $0.25 per minute, for my cell service. Today, it has gone up to an astounding $12 per month. And yes, every single time they contact me it is to 'invite' me to sign a new contract for better service that costs a LOT more. I always so "no." So they continuously degrade my service and then deny that they're doing it. I still have that old, crappy phone with the increasingly poor service from AT&T. But I don't carry it with me anymore. I carry my $600 smart phone with $100 per month service contract. I guess I think I need it because keeping up with my fellow bloggers is just THAT important.

"Hello, is this 1950?"
I remember being a kid, sitting at the dinner table with my family, probably watching "Hee Haw" on TV on a Sunday night, and the phone would ring. It wouldn't matter that we were busy eating. It wouldn't matter what conversation was going on. Everyone would look at each other and then, in a flash, my sister would launch herself from the table and streak to the kitchen to answer the telephone.

Remember the days before call waiting? I do. I remember when it first came available and I ordered it right away. The phone company charged me a monthly fee for the use of their external caller id box that linked to my phone. It wasn't even built in to the phone. And it ran off a 9 volt battery. I knew the instant I heard about the option of seeing who was calling without having to answer that I wanted that. I used it mostly to avoid my parents, if I remember correctly. It cost me an extra $7 a month just to HAVE the box, on top of the option of having caller id so I could use it. It was a rip-off, but I used the hell out of it.

These days AT&T rips me off on my internet speed. I pay for 150 mbps and they only have me running at about 100 at the most. Each time I notice it, they swear they'll fix it, but they never refund the money I paid for higher speed that I didn't get. Its quite a racket they have going there.

My dad had all rotary phones throughout the house right up through the day I graduated from college. I had to buy a phone with a switch on the bottom that would allow me to flip back and forth between "tone" and "pulse" dialing. Any time I needed to order something "online", which at that time meant over the telephone, I needed to be able to enter my credit card number, and that required a normal push-button phone that emitted normal push-button tones. Dad didn't even own a credit card so he totally didn't get this at all. Why would I need a push-button phone in order to order something using a credit card that I also shouldn't need?

Whenever my friends came to the house back in high school or college, they'd look at the rotary telephones in the house and laugh. 2 of the phones were from the 1940s or '50s and actually really cool antiques. But we used them as regular phones. You could kill a man with those phones. They were made of Bakelite and virtually indestructible. They also weighed 100 pounds and if you ever hit someone with the receiver it would crack their skull open. These days those phones can be found on Ebay selling for a fair amount of money. People actually run businesses restoring them. To be fair, they are great telephones. You can hear a hell of a lot better on those old analog antique rotary telephones than you can on any digital cell phone.

I can't hear you. I'm on my cell phone.

These days I'm the dinosaur. We have a landline analog phone plugged into the wall in the downstairs office, and another, older one, in the upstairs office. They both work better than our cordless phones, although we use the cordless ones most of all. Half my neighbors don't have any landline telephone at all. They rely on their cellphones exclusively. I guess considering how much I'm paying for my smart phone I can see how people might decide to dump their landlines. It's expensive having both.

I'm alive. Send candles.
A few years ago a tornado tore through north Alabama and shredded the state. Power was out for over a week. Just last year a hurricane tore through the northeastern states and left the Jersey Shore citizens without power for even longer than that. People had to run their cars or generators to charge the batteries on the cell phones. But without electricity, most gas stations couldn't pump gas. Gas pumps require electricity to function. I was in Alabama when the tornadoes hit. I sat in the dark with candles burning trying to read a book. I was at my parents' house at the time. Despite the lack of electricity I was able to pick up my parents old landline telephone and call my wife to tell her that I was alive. It worked fine, with no batteries to charge or signal problems at all. That was another issue that suddenly appeared after the tornadoes - missing cell towers. Cell phone towers went down all over the place when 20 tornadoes ripped across the state. Even if you had a good charge on your battery, you might not be able to get a signal. If you got a signal, it might be a very weak one. It might drop periodically.

We live as far out from Memphis as we can reasonably do while still working inside the city limits. The power out here flickers a lot. It used to go out at least once a day. But power or no power, our old analog landline telephones still work.

Over half the drivers in Memphis .... are uglier than this girl

I don't know why it is that people used to feel compelled to run to their house telephone and answer it any time it rang, or used to before the age of caller id. I don't know why people today feel compelled to answer their cell phones no matter where they are or what they're doing. Driving around this city I swear at least half the population is talking on their phone while driving. Most of them seem to be paying more attention to their phone conversations than their actual driving. One guy was walking up and down the aisles in the grocery store talking on his cell phone so loudly that he was actually yelling his conversation. It was impossible to ignore. So I started responding to the things he said, talking just as loud. It seemed to annoy him and he walked to the next aisle to get away from me, but he didn't stop yelling his conversation or hang up his phone. He clearly felt entitled to scream an ongoing conversation inside a crowded store simply because he was on his phone. I guess in his mind that was his private space and we were all rudely invading. People talking on their cell phones in public seem to increasingly feel this way. These are probably the same people who feel entitled to drive around with their headlights on high beam, day or night, and who seek out the newer model cars with the HID headlight systems that fry other driver's retinas.

"Pouvez vous 'hear me now?'"

I have never felt entitled to inflict my private phone conversations on people in public places, shouting into my cell phone at the top of my lungs while in crowded stores. And I have never felt entitled to drive around with my high beams on blinding other drivers, despite the fact that my newest car has that damn HID eye-frying high-intensity headlight system. I didn't seek out the blinding headlights. It was the rest of the car I wanted. I don't feel compelled to answer my phone any time it rings no matter what and I don't run across the house to see who is calling. I won't even attempt to pull my cell phone out of my pocket if it rings while I'm driving. And if I have the choice of calling someone on a landline analog phone versus my cell phone I'll choose the landline phone every time.

I think I must be weird. I certainly seem to be unusual for a Memphis person.

Yes, this is Elvis. How can I help you?

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