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"I wasn't born in the 40s so I have no idea what you're talking about."
March 4, 2014 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Adorably perplexed kids react to rotary phones. (via Mental Floss)
posted by mireille (194 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Please tell me Lydon's name is incorrectly reported as 11. Otherwise I'm just as confounded by the changes wrought by time's passage.
posted by yerfatma at 12:31 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


I am 34. When I was a teenager, I had a friend 2 years younger than me who was baffled at my household's last remaining rotary phone. That kids today don't know how to use one is hardly surprising. What really makes me sad is the lack of understanding of vinyl records.
posted by agregoli at 12:36 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


"No, I haven't known that for a looong time."

All those kids are pretty cool, but that kid is just fantastic.
posted by yoink at 12:36 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


It's always impressive that someone was born after other people were born, yes.
posted by thelonius at 12:37 PM on March 4 [7 favorites]


That kids today don't know how to use one is hardly surprising.

It's really not surprising at all; teaching people to use them in the first place was a lot of work. Here's an adorably perplexed grandfather reacting to rotary phones, back when rotary phones were newfangled inventions: "They're going to take out all our phones and put in them kind with dials on 'em! As soon as a man gets used to one thing, by golly, they want to take it away from him...aw shucks, you yougins are never satisfied these days."

Farther back still, How To Use the Dial Telephone (1927): "First, obtain the correct number to be dialed."
posted by cjelli at 12:39 PM on March 4 [19 favorites]


I felt old when in a recent thread, a punk band from 2003 was considered "old school". The punk music of my youth is positively antediluvian by that metric.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:39 PM on March 4 [6 favorites]


These fools! How can they not be familiar with this thing I was familiar with 25 years ago!?!
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 12:41 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


"Loading or searching or something?" Heh.
posted by Foosnark at 12:42 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


Is long distance charges being baffling an American thing? I'm in Canada and you'd better believe I pay prohibitively more to call my family in another province on my cell.
posted by northernish at 12:42 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


What I find kind of strange (as someone peeking around the corner at 40) is that other people's phones are kind of elusive. Like, I could probably pick up any modern cell phone and eventually figure out how to make a call. But, you get very locked in to your own interface. Back in the day, you often used a variety of phones as you went about your daily life but as the technology had standardized greatly, there was no learning curve to it.

What struck me most about this video is that these kind of gymnastics for the rotary phone likely happened when it was being introduced as well. The rotary phone is kind of funky. And amazing.
posted by amanda at 12:43 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Is long distance charges being baffling an American thing? I'm in Canada and you'd better believe I pay prohibitively more to call my family in another province on my cell.

You... do? Whoa. One of the biggest drivers of cell phone adoption for a long time was "free long distance" - every call within the US is just a call within the US. I regularly dial phone numbers located all over the country and I never pay more for it, and I have no idea where half of them are located.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:44 PM on March 4 [6 favorites]


Okay, this puzzles me. Do children/teenagers just not watch any movies or TV shows made before they were born? Surely you could figure out how a rotary phone worked from that context.
posted by KHAAAN! at 12:45 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Okay, this puzzles me. Do children/teenagers just not watch any movies or TV shows made before they were born?

When they were little, my kids refused to watch old movies...because they were black-and-white. They're a little better now. That said, of course, there's a ton of older movies in color that use rotary phones, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:47 PM on March 4


"Operator, get me BUtterfield-8 2921. Dial? What the blazes are you on about?"
posted by Rock Steady at 12:48 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


I still wonder where Superman changes clothes now.
posted by Foosnark at 12:48 PM on March 4 [13 favorites]


It's the bit about not knowing what a phone booth is that threw me, just because they're such a staple of media. It's like not knowing that one slips on a banana peel.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:49 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


Do children/teenagers just not watch any movies or TV shows made before they were born?

The youngest ones probably don't watch much TV that's not contemporary, and even when they do, how often does a scene where someone makes a call actually show the close-up mechanics of dialing the phone? That's quite a lot of essentially dead screen time. I'll bet it's far, far more common to just cut to someone saying "hello? Betty, is that you?" than it is to show them picking up the phone and actually dialing the numbers.

(And yes, it was always Betty. Nobody ever placed a call to anyone called anything but Betty in film or TV prior to 1993. But you tell the kids today that and they just won't believe you!)
posted by yoink at 12:51 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


amanda: What I find kind of strange (as someone peeking around the corner at 40) is that other people's phones are kind of elusive. Like, I could probably pick up any modern cell phone and eventually figure out how to make a call. But, you get very locked in to your own interface. Back in the day, you often used a variety of phones as you went about your daily life but as the technology had standardized greatly, there was no learning curve to it.

What struck me most about this video is that these kind of gymnastics for the rotary phone likely happened when it was being introduced as well. The rotary phone is kind of funky. And amazing.


The subtlest change I see with ubiquitous cellphones is that you never talk on the phone to someone you didn't intend to talk to. If I want to talk to my Mom, I call my Mom's cellphone and I don't have to wonder if I'll get my step-dad on the line instead. I almost never talk to my brother's wife on the phone, whereas in olden days, she might pick up if he was busy or out of the house, and we could have a cheerful little chat for a minute until he was free or whatever. It's a weird little narrowing of our social sphere.

Also, I remember the first friend I had who had a touch-tone telephone back in middle school or thereabouts. It was immediate proof of my youthful suspicions that he was rich.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:52 PM on March 4 [22 favorites]


I remember my dad calling our first microwave "the $700 coffee warmer".
posted by Sophie1 at 12:53 PM on March 4 [14 favorites]


Rotary phones were considered retro as far back as the mid-'90s. I thought it would be all cool and ironic and shit to have one in my room one year at university, but then it turned out that the number I had to call most often had three zeros in it, which meant it took half a damn hour to dial it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:54 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Let's see who else grew up with WGN:

When you're thinkin'...thinkin' Lincoln!
Better carpeting for less!
Call NAtional-2 nine thousand!
NAtional-2 nine...thouSAND!


Up next: an ad for Heileman's Old Style...purely brewed, in God's Country.
posted by jquinby at 12:54 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


A short instructional video.
posted by solarion at 12:55 PM on March 4



Is long distance charges being baffling an American thing? I'm in Canada and you'd better believe I pay prohibitively more to call my family in another province on my cell.

Dude.... Get a better plan.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:56 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


perhaps kids are just afraid of rotary telephones and could use this helpful post someone made on metafilter dot com
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:56 PM on March 4


The best part about this video was when they find out that you can't text message on the phone and one girl says, "But, what? So if you wanted to talk to your friends, how would... Oh. You'd have to actually call and talk to them."
posted by katers890 at 12:56 PM on March 4 [8 favorites]


There's something so satisfying about the sound of a rotary phone, though, isn't there? Thunk, shhhhhiiiiiiiing. We had one in the kitchen until the late 90s. Leased from the phone company, of course.

Hell, it was the only phone in the house until the mid 90s. I was so cheesed that I couldn't call 777-FILM.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:57 PM on March 4 [6 favorites]


"How do you send text messages?" is not a trick question! However, I would be severely impressed if anybody that age knew the answer began with, "First, ring Western Union..." and ended with a teen shoving a scrap of paper into your hand.

I'm pretty sure some companies also offered a calling service where they would take a message and ring an engaged line until they got through to deliver it.
posted by Thing at 12:58 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Ha, feast your eyes on the ad. No jingle, though. Oh well. Named exchanges were fun, but were almost out the door by about then in most places, I think.
posted by jquinby at 12:58 PM on March 4


For what it's worth, I (born at the end of Eisenhower's first presidential term) met my very first push-button telephone in a Florida hotel room in 1960..... I remember being totally confused: where the heck was the dial?!?
posted by easily confused at 12:58 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


We still have one rotary phone hooked up in my house. And no call answer or call waiting, just an answering machine (although we did upgrade from the tape deck one last year). My 4 and 7 year-old kids are fully backwards compatible.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:59 PM on March 4 [8 favorites]


Operator, get me BUtterfield-8 2921.

Siri, get me BUtterfield-8 2921.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:59 PM on March 4 [7 favorites]


My dad had rotary phones in his house for decades past the time when everyone had moved to push button. This was because the phones in his house were hardwired in, no modular jacks, and so this remained until Pacific Bell offered to wire jacks into his house for free sometime in the late 00s. Even then he only recently discovered he had been paying a small monthly fee to Pac Bell for the rental of his hardwired ringer since 1962. In those days, fancy residential phone systems did not ring at the phone but by wall-mounted speakers wired into a few central locations in the house. The same ringer unit could also be tied into the doorbell.

There was several year span, long after I had moved out but before cell phones became common, where it was difficult for me to make outgoing calls while visiting his house because my fingers had completely lost the muscle memory of using a rotary dial and I had memorized phone numbers by the beep-boop songs of push button phones rather than by the number. I would have to draw little diagrams of a keypad, sort of half close my eyes and poke at the paper while humming the tones to remember the number, which I would quickly dial. When you've forgotten how to use a rotary phone, your finger wants to travel in straight lines, so the dial gets hung up at the 2-o-clock position before making it around the rest of the arc.

I still feel silly and ancient when I say "dial so and so" instead of "call."
posted by jamaro at 1:00 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Do children/teenagers just not watch any movies or TV shows made before they were born?

Actually, several of the kids in the video said that's where they recognised these were phones from. (Best reaction: it looks like a phone, it has a telephone (picks up horn)) Most likely to make you feel old: "i read history".
posted by MartinWisse at 1:00 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


See? See? Grinds my gears, it does.

(Here it is on YouTube.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:02 PM on March 4


benito.strauss: Siri, get me BUtterfield-8 2921.

That would be such an easy and great little Easter Egg to program into Siri.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:02 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Operator, give me number 32O--ooh, is that you, Myrt? How's every little thing, Myrt? What say, Myrt?
posted by entropicamericana at 1:03 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


> Is long distance charges being baffling an American thing?

Long-distance is included in the package for every cellphone plan I'm aware of. Added fees for long-distance calls is a collateral relic of land lines.

I kept my Michigan cellphone number after moving to North Carolina a few years ago. Aside from people occasionally assuming the wrong area code after asking for my number, nobody bats an eye at it. I'm far from the only resident around here with an out-of-state home number. And so far nobody's sounded put out for having to phone me long-distance despite my living at most one county away from them.
posted by ardgedee at 1:05 PM on March 4


1991: Phone in kitchen.
1997: Phone in my room.
2002: Phone in every room.
2007: Phone in my pocket.
2014: Transforms into phone.
posted by Fizz at 1:05 PM on March 4 [8 favorites]


The other day I dialed a number and got a busy signal. I was so startled I didn't know what to do for a couple of seconds. I don't remember how long it had been since I heard a busy signal.
posted by Longtime Listener at 1:06 PM on March 4 [9 favorites]


Ha, I was just going to ask if busy signals were really gone. Are they just a land-line thing now?
posted by gubo at 1:07 PM on March 4


No free long distance on my Canadian cell phone.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:10 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I get busy signals here too, when I'm dumb enough to try and call a taxi at peak hours.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:11 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


We had a rotary phone in 1999 and it was one I got at a flea market, big black 60s or 70s model. That fucker was heavy, and the ring was LOUD next to the normal electronic trilling of the lightweight landline pushbuttons you normally had. I don't think we got cellphones till the next year or maybe the next.

I kind of loved it, though; I spent hours as a kid playing with the rotary dial on my grandma's old (disconnected) phone. It was very tactile.

We had to buy a cheapo disposable cellphone for our house this year when we realized that if for some reason we were both out of the house, there was no way for our kid to make a 911 call (which we were teaching him how to do). I'm still not entirely sure he'll get it right, because he never calls anyone, because he's too young for a cell phone. Whereas I called Time and Temperature every day when I was his age.
posted by emjaybee at 1:11 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


I watched a videotape of cartoons from around 1992 or so and I'd forgotten about the Long-Distance Wars between Sprint, MCI, and AT&T. Then cellphones happened and now nobody gives a shit anymore.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:12 PM on March 4


Foosnark: I still wonder where Superman changes clothes now.

In a Starbucks.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:12 PM on March 4 [11 favorites]


I got a rotary phone a few years back. Both the kids, in their early-mid teens, knew exactly what it was an had an idea how to use it. Yeah, they never had any hangups about black and white movies/tv (they've actually loved old movies since they were old enough to sit in front of the TV).

Once the novelty wore away, they became more annoyed with the loud ringer. Though it was nice to use because of the clear voice that it offered. When we switched to Ooma, it became completely obsolete, and I gave it away. :(
posted by 2N2222 at 1:14 PM on March 4


Not only do I remember rotary phones, I remember a neat little gadget that existed in the transition time between rotary and touch-tone: a portable touch-tone generator. My dad had one because he spent a lot of times calling from pay phones and it made things much easier.

I enjoyed it because I was a little kid and pushing the buttons made music.
posted by Hamusutaa at 1:14 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


ardgedee: I kept my Michigan cellphone number after moving to North Carolina a few years ago. Aside from people occasionally assuming the wrong area code after asking for my number, nobody bats an eye at it. I'm far from the only resident around here with an out-of-state home number.

Obligatory XKCD.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:14 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


If you have a land line today, do you still get charged extra for "touch tone" service? Does anybody know?
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 1:15 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


a portable touch-tone generator. My dad had one because he spent a lot of times calling from pay phones and it made things much easier.

Yup, they sure were useful for pay phones.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:17 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


If you have a land line today, do you still get charged extra for "touch tone" service? Does anybody know?

In Canada, yes you do. @#%@#$#&^*
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:17 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


A couple of things I had forgotten about before I saw this thread: Touch-tone service used to be an add-on you paid extra to the phone company for. And third-party telephones used to have a TONE/PULSE switch for people who didn't have a touch-tone line.
posted by Flexagon at 1:17 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


We are getting closer and closer to the scenario from "The President's Analyst" (1967) where every baby would have some chips implanted at birth, and be assigned a personal number. They would retain that number all their life, and you could call anyone by just thinking their number. Of course that would require every person in the country to get their phone service through The Phone Company, and pay whatever fees they choose, but Hey! Capitalism! What are you going to do?
posted by pbrim at 1:17 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


In a similar vein, my 10- and 12-year old goddaughters had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned a music cassette tape.
posted by twsf at 1:18 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


More from Mental Floss: 11 "Modern Antiques" Today's Kids Have Probably Never Seen
posted by filthy light thief at 1:18 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Once the novelty wore away, they became more annoyed with the loud ringer.

This is one of the reasons I love my rotary phone. When I'm outside, I know when it is my phone ringing.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:20 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


One RingyDingy
posted by islander at 1:20 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


I'm 43. I can remember when our family got our first touchtone phone and thinking it was a major big deal. And my mother's family didn't have a phone of any kind until the early 70's. On the other hand, my octogenarian landlady downstairs still has a rotary phone, which I can work fine, except when our cable and phone service upstairs went out and we were helpless in the face of a barrage of touchtone menus.
posted by jonmc at 1:21 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


and the ring was LOUD

more annoyed with the loud ringer


Most standard rotary phones have a ringer volume control. Really! It's that shitty metal dial on the bottom.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:22 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


agregoli: What really makes me sad is the lack of understanding of vinyl records.

I used to be a college radio DJ, and one of my fond memories was telling kids about records, just to see who looked completely baffled, and who knew because their older siblings or parents had told them about these archaic things.


twsf: In a similar vein, my 10- and 12-year old goddaughters had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned a music cassette tape.

My wife and I are raising our son with a knowledge of our history, which includes a collection of cassettes and record. He's not ready to actually cue up a record yet (he's only two and a half, and we don't have any spare needles), but we could probably show him how to load a cassette, and show him what is inside (we recently lost an old mixtape in our '94 minivan, with AM/FM/Cassette Capabilities!).
posted by filthy light thief at 1:23 PM on March 4


And third-party telephones used to have a TONE/PULSE switch for people who didn't have a touch-tone line.

Oh yeah, this. We never got to hear the fancy tones at my house; the #6 button would go "Bip! Prt-rt-rt-rt-rt-rt" instead.

On another note, I remember a conversation in the 90s about when the last time anyone had ever heard a network unavailable signal from a phone. Network capacity increases had exceeded population growth, amazing!
posted by ceribus peribus at 1:24 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


A couple years back, a friend's car was broken into while parked at the lake. The cops caught the 13-yo boy that did it. As they were grilling him, they asked "You took all the CDs in the car, but you left the big box of tapes in the back seat! Why is that?" The kid shrugged and said, "I didn't know what those were."

That story makes me feel old every time I tell it.
posted by xedrik at 1:24 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


I'm also looking forward to showing him about NES cartridge games without the option to save. We'll wait a few months before introducing the Game Genie and cheat codes.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:26 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


And I still want a rotary phone on my desk at work, the kind that sits in the cradle and you can sort of slam your fist on the cord end and make the handset flip off the cradle and into your hand. I just gotta figure out how to patch it into our IP-PBX...
posted by xedrik at 1:27 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


xedrik: The kid shrugged and said, "I didn't know what those were."

And if he did know what they were, he still would have left them, because who would buy cassettes?
posted by filthy light thief at 1:27 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Have we mentioned party lines yet? I remember being really confused as a child because my grandma wasn't answering her phone even though it was ringing. "Oh it's not for me, dear." They had assigned ringtones decades before that became a thing!
posted by ceribus peribus at 1:29 PM on March 4 [6 favorites]


"How do you know it is a phone?" "Because I am in history"...

Man, I just got old.
posted by pau4 at 1:30 PM on March 4


Hey, I got my portable touch-tone generator at Radio Shack! I needed it when I was vacationing out in the sticks, where there was only a rotary phone, and I wanted to check my voicemail. It didn't seem to work all that well, though.
posted by thelonius at 1:30 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


"Hang up." That's still with us from telephones whose guts were in rectangular wooden boxes mounted on the wall with a crank on the side to get the attention of a human telco employee and with an earpiece that looked like a cross between a salt shaker and an inkwell. Connected to the telephone body (and the rest of the telephone network) by a farking wire. (And I don't mean a cat6 cable either.) These phones broke the connection when you "hung up" the earpiece on a hook made to fit it.

And folks who say "hang up" have the nerve to laugh about qwerty keyboards.
posted by jfuller at 1:35 PM on March 4


Have we mentioned party lines yet? I remember being really confused as a child because my grandma wasn't answering her phone even though it was ringing. "Oh it's not for me, dear." They had assigned ringtones decades before that became a thing!

When I worked for a small phone company in a college town in the 80's, for a while we had a very popular service. You could have multiple phone numbers assigned to the same address, each with a distinctive ring. The advertised use was so that roommates would know who the call was for. The primary actual use was for kids who didn't want their parents knowing they had moved in with their SO. You gave one number to the girl's family and a different one to the boy's family and were careful about which ring you answered.

We also offered car phones at that time, complete with mechanics that installed it in your car because it had to be hard wired to your car's electrical system. You paid by the minute not just for phone time, but also for air time -- that is every minute the phone was off the hook. One person had their kid take it off the hook, playing with it, and didn't put it back. He got a bill for a couple of grand for air time, which was a lot more money back then than it sounds. I think it was eventually adjusted, but I don't know for sure.
posted by pbrim at 1:38 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Yeah, we had a rotary phone until well into the 70's. It was always a drag because we could never win a radio contest because it took too long to dial (Be the 5th caller!). It also had about a 25' cord between the handset and base so that my mother could roam around while she was on said phone.
posted by dforemsky at 1:39 PM on March 4


see? Proof that children are dumb.

(lovingly polishes black 30s Bakerlite phone on nearby desk)
posted by The Whelk at 1:41 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Maybe this is a derail, but seriously, Canadians, why are your telcos so terrible? I mean, ours are terrible, but at least they're not still charging us for long-distance, and we've got like no regulations whatsoever anymore.
posted by Diablevert at 1:42 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


It also had about a 25' cord between the handset and base

Yes! The extra long cord, which always had a few twists in it somewhere, messing up the perfect spiral. I spent a lot of time trying to untwist the twists as I talked.
posted by vytae at 1:46 PM on March 4 [6 favorites]


Ask me about the time I had to call CAA (the Canadian AAA) while near a major highway (hwy 40 in Kananaskis), and lacking cell service, had to walk to find a pay phone.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:46 PM on March 4


I remember my dad calling our first microwave "the $700 coffee warmer".

We got our first microwave in 1984, and it took four years before my mother was comfortable standing directly in front of it while it was running because of "radiation".

On the other hand, they still have it because it works beautifully even 30 years later.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:48 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


I regularly dial phone numbers located all over the country and I never pay more for it

My current phone number has a Knoxville, TN area code even though I live in New Orleans, LA. That happened because when I evacuated for katrina my wife and I couldn't call one another, because of 504 being under water. Never really had a reason to change it back.

Canadians, why are your telcos so terrible?

Probably karma for their banking and health care systems.
posted by localroger at 1:48 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


I remember when I was a kid, I went to call my buddy on the rotary phone. And coincidentally he was already calling me. So I picked up the rotary phone to make the call just before it started to ring, and my buddy was already on the other end. That was weird. I don't think that can happen with a cell phone, right?
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 1:48 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


I work for a company that makes landline phones. I feel like upper management should have to watch this video.

Maybe this is a derail, but seriously, Canadians, why are your telcos so terrible? I mean, ours are terrible, but at least they're not still charging us for long-distance, and we've got like no regulations whatsoever anymore.

Due to said job above, I work with telcos from the US and Canada, and can say with full confidence that the worse three telcos are Rogers, Telus and Bell. Whenever I think that I figured out that one of them is "the worst", one of the other two manages to sink lower.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:49 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Push button phones and digital watches; we called it the digital revolution.
posted by Segundus at 1:51 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


There was a rotary phone joke in the movie In and Out, all the way back in 1997, where a supermodel played by Shalom Harlow tries to call for help, finds herself face to face with a rotary phone, and mashes her hand against it to try to get it to dial.

These things are designed to make you feel old. Here's an example: For college Freshmen Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon has always been dead, and most have never even heard of him.

But it means we're old in the same way that 20-year-olds complain about being old because their favorite show has somehow managed to be off the air for five years, or because their favorite child star just got married, or whatever. We're not old.

I work with old people. I seem very young to them, and I am 45. The pop stars of their youth haven't just aged or passed into obscurity, they have died and been forgotten, sometimes for decades. We are as far away from Star Wars as Star Wars was from the movie serials that inspired it, and they grew up on Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. As others have said, they had live operators on their phones, and phone numbers had exchange names. Telephone numbers sometimes looked like this: 3R122. Those last numbers represented how many times you would have to turn the crank on the phone. There used to be an intercept operator when you accidentally dialed a number that didn't exist or had been disconnected, who would interrupt to ask you what number you were calling and then to tell you you got it wrong or that number didn't exist anymore. You used to be able to call operators to ask the time. There used to be a number that would tell you the weather.

And this is all the history of the telephone, so it's all part of the same small bundle of history that is still in living memory. Commercial telegraphy dates back to 1837, and had its own culture, which we have now completely lost, but some of the old timers remember. We no longer have the 92 code, but for a few codes that broke free and are found elsewhere. I'd be curious to see how anybody below the age of, say, 40, would respond to an iambic paddle, or explain what hog morse is.

And even that is in living memory. We're not old. We're young. We were born after hobo signs fell into disuse. We were born long after the semaphore line went into disuse. You want old? Find me someone who used Sir Henry Christopher Mance's heliograph system.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:51 PM on March 4 [19 favorites]


There's something so satisfying about the sound of a rotary phone, though, isn't there? Thunk, shhhhhiiiiiiiing.

What's not quite as satisfying, but still pretty neat, is the sound that the switches on the other end of a rotary phone call used to make. (This film from AT&T explains how they worked, if you're interested.)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:53 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


My favourite story about this kind of thing was when my kids got access to the old vinyl records and as I sat in front of my computer I heard my 6 yo daughter say "would you rather listen to Frank Zappa or Metallica?" I knew then I was a bad parent.... The chose Zappa.
posted by mrgroweler at 1:55 PM on March 4


Yes! The extra long cord, which always had a few twists in it somewhere, messing up the perfect spiral. I spent a lot of time trying to untwist the twists as I talked.

Nah, the earlier ones had cloth cords, like most of these beauties. (Keep meaning to pick one up from eBay like this one.)
posted by Melismata at 1:58 PM on March 4


a portable touch-tone generator. My dad had one because he spent a lot of times calling from pay phones and it made things much easier.

Yup, they sure were useful for pay phones.


Particularly if you changed the timing crystal and stored a program with (if I recall correctly) 5 * keys.
posted by phearlez at 1:58 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I get a new cell phone fairly often. Every single time I activate it, I go to dial time and temperature as my test call but then realize I don't know if those numbers still work and am too embarrassed to accidentally call someone so I just call my work line.
posted by sio42 at 1:58 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


The worst thing about losing vinyl is exasperated parents can't say, "Do I sound like a broken record?" because the kids don't understand it.
posted by etaoin at 1:59 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Rotary phones were considered retro as far back as the mid-'90s. I thought it would be all cool and ironic and shit to have one in my room one year at university, but then it turned out that the number I had to call most often had three zeros in it, which meant it took half a damn hour to dial it.

25 years ago my phone number was 547-0099. That last bit tried the patience of a few people.

I mentioned my in-laws' curious phone set-up on the blue a few months back. They also have a rotary phone as the main line out, which causes their 17-year-old granddaughter no end of amusement and wonder. I like to imagine that somewhere out there that the grandchildren of the prop master for The Ten Commandments has the two tablets that Chuck Heston brought down off Mount Sinai sitting framed in the living room. That is the kind of reaction that the rotary phone gets from her friends.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:59 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Also, time and temp had another use.

If you had call waiting and were expecting a phone call after your parents went to bed, you could keep calling time and temp and then eventually it would beep the call waiting noise.
posted by sio42 at 2:00 PM on March 4 [11 favorites]


True story...
Back right after we were married (1980), my wife and I lived within the old city limits of Indianapolis. Her parents lived just outside the city limits on the north end of the county. Her brother lived just south of Indy in Greenwood.

We all lived in the same area code. However, because her parents and her brother did not live in neighboring communities (they were separated by Indianapolis) it was a long-distance charge for her parents to call her brother, and vice-versa. It was, though, a local call for us to call either of them (because Indy directly bordered the two communities).

Thus began the very annoying habit of her parents calling us with a message for us to pass-on to her brother...and we would then relay back her brother's response. That got old really, really quick.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:01 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


The worst thing about losing vinyl is exasperated parents can't say, "Do I sound like a broken record?" because the kids don't understand it.

What's funny about that is that CDs skip just as often as records did, and yet no one ever says "Do I sound like a scratched CD?".
posted by Melismata at 2:01 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


I remember a neat little gadget that existed in the transition time between rotary and touch-tone: a portable touch-tone generator. My dad had one because he spent a lot of times calling from pay phones and it made things much easier.

Back when I was a kid I found an early PDA/personal organize device someone had lost. It had really basic TI-83 calculator level functionality where you could make an address book with contact info and whatnot. But the cool thing was that it had a big speaker on the back, and you could have it generate the DTMF tones of the number for the contact you wanted to call and play them back into a phone.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:03 PM on March 4


I go to dial time and temperature as my test call but then realize I don't know if those numbers still work and am too embarrassed to accidentally call someone so I just call my work line.

I just checked. My local time and temperature (817-844-6611) still works! I have been dialing that since I was 7 years old (though I didn't use to have to use the ding-dang area code).

Today is Tuesday, if you were wondering.
posted by emjaybee at 2:04 PM on March 4 [7 favorites]


but then it turned out that the number I had to call most often had three zeros in it, which meant it took half a damn hour to dial it.

Additionally, an enduring but mediocre pizza chain based in Toronto made sure the delivery line for its restaurants ended in -1111 to make their place the quickest call.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:06 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Foosnark: I still wonder where Superman changes clothes now.

I don't think he's done the phone booth thing for decades. I grew up with phone booths, but the idea of Superman changing in a phone booth never made sense to me as a child, because all the phone booths I knew were transparent. I've still never actually seen a phone booth that would provide reasonable privacy for changing clothes. Not even in an old movie.
posted by baf at 2:07 PM on March 4


I still wonder where Superman changes clothes now.

Now? It was a joke 36 years ago (at 1:30).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:12 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Dude.... Get a better plan.

A better plan would be a more expensive plan. It looks like the cheapest nationwide plans are still about $5-$10 more a month than I'm currently paying for a plan with a minor provider that gives me unlimited incoming and voicemail. Unfortunately, I'm still in a place where an extra $10 a month just isn't in the budget, even factoring in the occasional extra fee of an emergency long-distance call.
posted by northernish at 2:13 PM on March 4


I call shenanigans on any under-30something who claims to not know what vinyl records are, but still listens to hip-hop of any form. What do they think the DJs are using?
posted by Strange Interlude at 2:14 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Additionally, an enduring but mediocre pizza chain based in Toronto made sure the delivery line for its restaurants ended in -1111 to make their place the quickest call.

Well, now that jingle's stuck in my ear for the rest of the day. Mediocre or not, they always had the business of any group of stoned teenagers in my post-rotary/pre-smartphone youth because everyone could always remember the number off the top of their heads.
posted by northernish at 2:16 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


how often does a scene where someone makes a call actually show the close-up mechanics of dialing the phone? That's quite a lot of essentially dead screen time.

I searched in vain for a youtube clip the scene in the movie Help! by the Beatles for when John Lennon spends at least 40 seconds of screen time dialing a phone. I remember weird shit.
posted by knownassociate at 2:19 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Something that will get lost in the sands of time is that there was something in between "long distance" and "free local calling." That you could call the next town over for free, but if you wanted to call family that lived further away in the state, that cost per minute.
posted by smackfu at 2:24 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


When I was a kid in Europe some 35 years ago, 4 apartments shared one phone line. If your neighbour was on the phone, you'd hear the busy signal if you tried to use yours.
It was called a "quarter phone".
It was therefore considered bad form to talk for too long on the phone.

I remember reading a short story about someone who revenges himself on his neighbour. The narrators wife had died because he hadn't been able to call an ambulance, because his neighbour had nattered on on the phone for hours.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:25 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]



"Computurrrr . . . "


 
posted by Herodios at 2:25 PM on March 4


When I was a smallish child, the phone at my grandparents' farm was a wooden panel with a speaker and a sort of cornetto for the ear. It had a big dial with no numbers, and to call, you turned the dial and would then get connected to some ladies in the village. This was very practical, because if you were calling the pigeon man, and he was out working on something, the telephone lady would know and tell you. She would also know everything else worth knowing, because she would listen in on all calls. You could not describe this as eavesdropping because it was a given fact that she listened.
So if my grandfather won a business deal, in 15 minutes, the local bank would send flowers. If Gran was mad at the butcher, we'd have complementary pork chops delivered before dinner. On the other hand, when my ignorant city-relatives called and exposed intimate life-details, we would be ridiculed the same day.
We put away the phone-panel 30 years ago. But it worked until recently, because many of the locals were reluctant to give up the whole localized system, and they didn't care about long-distance calls.
In our current communications contract, we still have a landline, but it bugs up the other functions so we don't use it.
posted by mumimor at 2:28 PM on March 4 [8 favorites]


What's funny about that is that CDs skip just as often as records did, and yet no one ever says "Do I sound like a scratched CD?".

It's the difference between being able to watch and see exactly what's happening with the needle and the vinyl vs. something going wrong in that black box over there that may or may not be fixed if you take the disc out and wipe it.
posted by straight at 2:28 PM on March 4


The Hitchcock film Dial M for Murder was shot in 3D, although not released that way. There are behind the scenes shots of a giant telephone and prop finger which were used to create 3D closeups of the finger dialing the fatal number. In those days, without computer assist, it was the only way to make the effect work at such small scale.
posted by localroger at 2:29 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I remember my dad calling our first microwave "the $700 coffee warmer".

My great-grandparents, so I'm told, called the flush toilet the "automatic foot washer".
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:33 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


"Dial the number.. as soon as I find out how."
Do kids still say "dial a number"? Do they ever wonder why there is no dial?

Also, I don't mind them calling it an old phone. I can deal with being old. But "old-fashioned"? That hurts.
posted by Kabanos at 2:36 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


What's funny about that is that CDs skip just as often as records did, and yet no one ever says "Do I sound like a scratched CD?".

It's the difference between being able to watch and see exactly what's happening with the needle and the vinyl vs. something going wrong in that black box over there that may or may not be fixed if you take the disc out and wipe it.


Plus, it's the difference between "how about you? -about you -about you -about you -about you"
And "-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou".
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:38 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


Yipyipyipyipyip!
posted by Lyn Never at 2:43 PM on March 4 [12 favorites]


Yipyipyipyipyip!

Mrs. Example and I still do this at intervals when a phone rings. "BRRRR-ING! Yep yep yep." "Yep yep yep yep yep yep. BRRRR-ING!"

Basically, we had to get married. No one else would put up with us.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:48 PM on March 4 [14 favorites]


What really makes me sad is the lack of understanding of vinyl records.

I let my eight-year-old kids hunker down with a record player and some terrible records; it took all of five minutes for them to start spinning the record at different speeds backwards and forwards instead of just listening to the music, all the while giggling like idiots.

Which means they understand vinyl records perfectly.
posted by davejay at 2:50 PM on March 4 [7 favorites]


The Whelk: lovingly polishes black 30s Bakerlite phone on nearby desk

My brother bought an old rotary dial phone from a thrift store back in the late 1990s. It was nothing so old as your Bakerlite, but the guy who sold it to my brother was talking about how durable that phone was by telling us that his girlfriend threw one just like that at him, and it missed him but hit the wall pretty hard, and it still worked.

But because we were in the days of phone-tone commands on service numbers, and because we were would-be phone phreaks (and we were lazy), my brother used his (unmodified) tone dialer on that phone.

I wonder what happened to my brother's phone. I'd love to show it to my son.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:52 PM on March 4


etaoin: The worst thing about losing vinyl is exasperated parents can't say, "Do I sound like a broken record?" because the kids don't understand it.

It's even more confusing because "record" isn't just a music/audio record, but can refer to so many different records. Poor kids these days, what with their parents using such unclear terminology and slang.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:54 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I loved the kid in the yellow shirt describing what the phone calls from his Chicago relatives would have been like in the bad old days of expensive long distance: "Happy birthday. OK, bye." Kid, you have no idea how accurate your impression was.

My niece and nephew were recently given an old rotary dial phone to play with. My toddler niece is utterly fascinated with it and will often pretend to talk on it for long stretches of time. Mr. hgg says one day she will surprise us all by getting patched through to her great-grandma, who has gone to the long-distance area code in the sky.

Previously on MeFi, and just as cute: adorable francophone kids try to figure out "old" technology.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:00 PM on March 4


I bought my daughter a Fisher Price rotary phone because I had one as a kid and well, nostalgia. It wasn't until I gave it to her that I realised she would have no idea what it is. She mostly just uses the handset to bang on the main body.
posted by Wantok at 3:07 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Oh, also, I have a friend who's about seven years older than me, who always, even though we all have cell phones now, says his name when he calls.
Me: "Hello?"
Joe Blitta (not his real name, obvs): "Hey, Moofoo. Joe Blitta, here."
It cracks me up, because he's a serious tech guy, and surely he must know I see his name on my phone before I answer. Old habits, I guess.
Even funnier, his twin brother never does this.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:12 PM on March 4


Are... are the 80s finally back and no one told me?
posted by ODiV at 3:14 PM on March 4


More from Mental Floss: 11 "Modern Antiques" Today's Kids Have Probably Never Seen

I'm 28, so all of those things fall squarely in the "before my time" category. However, my family did a lot of road trip traveling when I was growing up, and we always stayed in budget motels in podunk off-ramp towns. Every once in a while we'd run into one with the bottle opener in the bathroom.

The first time I remember seeing one was on a trip out west when I was 7. My brother (4 at the time) and I were so enamored of the thing that my mom let us get root beer in glass bottles (which costs extra!), bring them back to the room, and drink them while sitting on the toilet. (Because obviously that's what you do.)

That was also the same trip where we stayed in a place that had a bed equipped with the Magic Fingers bed jiggler thing, which for us ended up being a 4 person equivalent of that horse outside of Walmart.
posted by phunniemee at 3:15 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


Ima call bullshit on this. Because of this.
posted by chavenet at 3:23 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


So yeah, Bakelite phones are the awesomesauce... actually, more than that, before the breakup of AT&T in the states, you couldn't really buy a phone - you had to lease one from the telephone company.

While the monopolistic abuses were indeed significant and awful, the fact they leased you phones means they made the phones to last forever. They built them with the intent to repair them when they had a problem. The audio and ring quality of a pre- 1960 phone is awesome (and they were built like bricks).

I have a few bakelite phones, which are great.

And it's true, while every american who uses a telco hates their telco, the US has the 2nd worst regime in the western world - Canada is significantly worse (more expensive, things like paying for caller ID on cell phones, etc).
posted by el io at 3:23 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


11 "Modern Antiques" Today's Kids Have Probably Never Seen

Church keys and bottle openers aren't antiques! There's still bottles that aren't twist-off. And for some reason pineapple juice still comes in cans that need a church key.

And convertibles still have those car window things. OK, I think they do. It's been a while since I rode in one honestly.

I'll give them the other ones though. And feel sadly nostalgic for the books of green stamps that so fascinated me as kid.
posted by aspo at 3:27 PM on March 4


I remember a conversation in the 90s about when the last time anyone had ever heard a network unavailable signal from a phone.

The "fast busy" signal — which is the modern replacement for the old "all circuits are busy" message — is going to be a disaster-movie staple if it isn't already. The only times I've heard that signal in recent memory is when Bad Things were happening.

Most recently, I got a fast-busy when trying to call someone in Richmond from Washington, on the morning of the Virginia earthquake. I distinctly remember thinking "huh, that's pretty weird..." and then the earthquake reached where I was. Presumably, the circuits were overloaded further south from people talking about the earthquake.

And then of course, I just contributed to the issue by calling a bunch of people to say "hey, earthquake!" So it goes.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:35 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


Because of this.

Eh, I dunno. Toys-R-Us products rated 12-24mths are marketed more towards the grandparents than the kids.
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:37 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


No free long distance on my Canadian cell phone.

that would be Stephen Harper doing everything he can to keep us divided.
posted by philip-random at 3:39 PM on March 4


As a kid, our neighbour gifted me an old, broken phone with the separate earpiece and a crank handle (which I took apart). In the seventies, that manufacture date of that antique phone was about as distant to me as a 60s rotary is to these kids.

Also, my 11 year old nephew was visiting and finally figured out that the cranks inside my '93 Honda make the windows go up and down.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:42 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Something that will get lost in the sands of time is that there was something in between "long distance" and "free local calling."

I found this out the hard way when I first started dialing BBS lines and left my modem connected for hours on end downloading warez at a (by today's standards) glacial pace. The first program I ever wrote (in Visual Basic or Turbo Pascal, can't remember) would check whether a number was local or "Zone 2" or "Zone 3."
posted by Thoughtcrime at 3:43 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I generally find the whole "Isn't is wacky how different the world is today compared to 20-30 years ago?"/"Here's a thing I bet will make you feel old" meme to be fairly played out, but I do confess to being taken aback when I was at an antique store a few years ago and saw the basic, everyday rotary phone I grew up with as one of the items for sale.
posted by The Gooch at 3:45 PM on March 4


Poor kids these days, what with their parents using such unclear terminology and slang.

born in 1959 and I'm still wondering what my grandmother meant when she said, "I've got a bone to pick with you." My brother insists it goes back to our time in caves.
posted by philip-random at 3:50 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


The flip side of "that makes me feel old" is the much more pleasant "this would have been science fiction twenty years ago". I had that feeling just the other day when I pulled out my smartphone to run an app that shows the estimated arrival times for any given bus stop in London. It does this by talking wirelessly over the Internet to a system that keeps track of each individual bus via their onboard GPS hardware.

Somewhere, the 23-year-old me (who didn't have a cell phone, much less a smart one) is beside himself with Gibsonian techno-joy.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:51 PM on March 4 [6 favorites]


The key feature of these phones is that you could hang up in real physical anger. Which was a joy.
posted by srboisvert at 3:51 PM on March 4 [28 favorites]


Anyone remember the pulse/tone switch on early consumer "portable" home phones?
posted by Thorzdad at 4:07 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


I'm of the right age to totally remember the days before cell phones (and the internet) and the rituals associated with busy signals and so forth, but young enough that I was a teenager when the internet was in its early days and one of the things you could learn about on it (or your local BBS) was the public telephone system, because phone phreaking was still a thing. I don't know how much of the modern telephone switching system in the US is digital (probably most of it), but I think a lot of the stuff that was still possible back in the 80s and 90s probably isn't now. Even then when me and my friends would try out the stuff we dug up online, we never knew if it didn't work because we were doing it wrong or because phone systems on which the tricks were designed to work were not the ones we were, in fact, using.

Playing DTMF tones to do weird stuff (or get free calls) and tap-dialing the rocker on a rotary phone just don't work at all anymore, do they?
posted by axiom at 4:11 PM on March 4


You could tap-dial on a touchtone phone too.
posted by stopgap at 4:19 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I have two rotary phones in my living room, one a black Bakelite and one ultra-vintage one that is so frankly awesome that I pay extra every month to have it remain connected. I NEVER actually use these phones but hunt for the wireless sets when I get a call on my landline. These wireless sets break down every three years or so. It is ridiculous and I am ashamed.
posted by Morrigan at 4:25 PM on March 4


And yet the kids instinctively knew how to twist the cord so it can never be untangled. That was a capital offense in the old days, kids.
posted by fshgrl at 4:32 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]



More from Mental Floss: 11 "Modern Antiques" Today's Kids Have Probably Never Seen


I'm in my mid 30s and don't know any of those. Except things I saw in movies/TV.
posted by sweetkid at 4:40 PM on March 4


Next Up: Kids discover televisions with mechanical UHF and VHF tuners and NO REMOTES!
posted by pjern at 4:45 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


I had to use a rotary phone about six months ago. I was hiking in the Alps, and the Italian hut only had a rotary phone. My reaction was not that different from the kids' reactions, including being perplexed on how to operate them. I used rotary phones until I was 10 years old at the very least.
posted by sockpuppetdirect at 4:49 PM on March 4


stopgap: "You could tap-dial on a touchtone phone too."

I did this for years. The 9 button was broken on our touch-tone phone. It made a funny noise that the system did not recognize. I would dial by tapping the cradle button rapidly to mimic a rotary phone (our interchange was 942.)
posted by double block and bleed at 4:58 PM on March 4


Every once in a while we'd run into one with the bottle opener in the bathroom.

We had one in the kitchen of the house where I grew up. Whenever I'm in someone's kitchen and get handed a beer, I somehow instinctively look around for a bottle opener under the counter. It seriously never occurred to me until now that they were a relic of the past. I just assumed that everywhere I'd lived since (and everywhere my friends lived) was somehow defective and that was why we had to hunt for a bottle opener. This is like when I discovered that Yorkshire pudding batter and pancake batter were the same and it wasn't a cosmic coincidence that Yorkshire pudding and pancakes tasted the same.

Also, you use the bottle end of the church key to open film canisters, which I guess is now themselves a relic of the past.
posted by hoyland at 5:00 PM on March 4


My children (2 and 4) both think a "phone book" is a book that you read on your phone.

We have a Fisher-Price Chatterphone (we have the retro version) and we gave it to my older son when he was about 21 months old and he said delightedly, "TRUCK!" "No, it's a phone." "TRUCK!" "It's a phone." "... truck?" "Phone." "... PHONE TRUCK!"

I remember when I was little and one of my parents was talking long distance to my grandparents, it was like THE CARDINAL SIN OF THE WORLD to interrupt or make noise because long distance was really expensive and sort-of for special occasions, like once-a-week calls or else big news. Now it's like, "Hang on, mom, I have to order at the drive through --" (I also remember the delay and the echo on international calls, which does not seem to be such a thing anymore.)

My kids do know how to dial a touch-tone but if presented with one, my 4-year-old pushes it away and says, "No! I need a touch screen!"

It boggles my mind that neither of my children will be able to remember a time before everyone carried the Library of Alexandria around in their pocket all the time.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:23 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


filthy light thief: "More from Mental Floss: 11 "Modern Antiques" Today's Kids Have Probably Never Seen"

My neighbor's house has a milk chute (or a milk safe, as they call it); mine, built about 2-3 years later, does not. They use theirs to store garden tools. My house does have a coal chute door, but by the time the house was completed (1950), nobody was getting coal delivered and it was never used, nor were the interior bin or chute ever built. It was retrofitted some time in the 70s to serve as the dryer outlet, which is convenient.

We do have local dairy delivery available again, but they put a purpose-built cooler on your front steps and deliver into that. Which is just less cool than a milk safe.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:33 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


And it's true, while every american who uses a telco hates their telco, the US has the 2nd worst regime in the western world - Canada is significantly worse (more expensive, things like paying for caller ID on cell phones, etc).

I don't even particularly hate my cell phone provider, though it sucks. This became a lot easier to do once I stopped watching commercials for US cell phones.

(Things that also suck: internet providers. Such low caps.)
posted by jeather at 5:35 PM on March 4


Although it has been a complete ripoff since the advent of digital switching (which is basically universal now and has been since the early 90s), in the early days there was actually a separate physical piece of equipment that did the touch tone detection for your line. Even some old strowger switches had them bolted on.

A couple of the office PBX systems I occasionally work on have hardware tone detection. It's annoying because each module can only handle 4 simultaneous calls, so if you lack enough modules, it doesn't understand your tones.
posted by wierdo at 5:36 PM on March 4


Next Up: Kids discover televisions with mechanical UHF and VHF tuners and NO REMOTES!


When I was growing up kids were the remote controls. "Son, switch the TV to channel 7 and then get me a beer while you're up."
posted by octothorpe at 5:36 PM on March 4 [10 favorites]


I'm in my mid 30s and don't know any of those. Except things I saw in movies/TV.

I'm in my late 30s and remember pull tabs on Coke cans. And I remember seeing a Fotomat Booth in the States when I traveled there in the late 80s.

I've never even heard of half of them. The rest I saw in films.
posted by crossoverman at 5:41 PM on March 4


A couple years ago we were in an antique store and they had a run of the mill 80's rotary phone on a telephone stand. I asked our daughter if she knew how it worked and, after explaining it to her, told her to dial the grandparents, just to get the feel of it.

"Now what?"

"What do you mean?"

"How do you make it send?"
posted by The Hamms Bear at 5:43 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Vinyl records at x00 gram weights have become popular with music geeks in recent years.
posted by brujita at 5:44 PM on March 4


I didn't get a cell phone until 2007... after I graduated college. I remember having to actually use a phone card to call my mom, and all my friends who'd dispersed across the country were so baffled that my "phone number" changed every year when I got a new dorm. It's amazing how antiquated that seems now.

I don't think they even put landline phones in the dorm rooms at my college anymore.

I now work for a university and they pulled out landlines from most faculty offices because most of them didn't use them enough to justify the cost.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:46 PM on March 4


We also had a Bakelite phone. See that little handle on the base? You pulled it out and it had a mini magic slate and a little wooden stylus in a draw, for taking messages.
posted by unliteral at 6:02 PM on March 4


That just makes me think of Dial M for Moida (Murder).
posted by sweetkid at 6:16 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


I always feel like an idiot when I call someone I know on my cell and then say who I am. But I can't stop myself. I feel like it's rude.
posted by sio42 at 6:37 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


> Yipyipyipyipyip!

Telephone Rock.
posted by Westringia F. at 6:48 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Wasn't too long ago (early '90s) that my summer cottage was on a 16 party line. IIRC our ring was two longs and a short.

Also I recently built a real phone from a Fisher-Price Chatterphone.
posted by Gungho at 6:59 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


I now work for a university and they pulled out landlines from most faculty offices because most of them didn't use them enough to justify the cost.

I just started a new job and it's the first job in twenty years where I don't have a phone on my desk. No one else does either. Companies finally figured out that every already has a phone with them.
posted by octothorpe at 7:18 PM on March 4


When I was growing up kids were the remote controls. "Son, switch the TV to channel 7 and then get me a beer while you're up."

Ha. This made me remember the negotiating my sisters and I would do around channel changing and turning the volume up or down. It usually consisted of me and my middle sister bribing my youngest to do it. "Do it an you can get a cookie." Of course she had to go get her own cookie or wait until a lot later to get it. This worked pretty well for a long time until she got old enough to realize what was going on and negotiations became a lot more involved. I remember it got to the point where all of us would refuse to be the channel changer and end up watching a show we didn't want to watch because none of us wanted to give in and do it.

Getting a tv and remote was amazing. Although then it changed into negotiating over who had control of it. lol
posted by Jalliah at 7:24 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


I just started a new job and it's the first job in twenty years where I don't have a phone on my desk. No one else does either. Companies finally figured out that every already has a phone with them.

You use your personal cell phone for all work calls?
posted by jeather at 7:37 PM on March 4


You use your personal cell phone for all work calls?

I'm a software engineer and have almost no reason to ever call anyone for work. We only have one site and our whole product team is within thirty feet of my desk so there's not much need for telephones. As far as I know, no one there knows my cell phone number.
posted by octothorpe at 7:49 PM on March 4


Something that struck me ridiculously hard a few years ago was when my parents got rid of their land line. Which meant they got rid of the phone number that I had known, had memorized, since before I could remember. It's (xxx) 623-4589, a number that will now just get you a disconnected message.

I have that number memorized to the cellular, to the DNA level. My children probably recite it in their sleep. Growing up I told dozens, hundreds of kids that number, and that was the way to contact me. But Mom and Dad, in their cruel shortsightedness, up and decided to kill it dead. Yet this now useless number sticks with me, and will forever. Sigh.
posted by zardoz at 7:50 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


(xxx) 242-6961 RIP.
posted by localroger at 7:56 PM on March 4


We actually still have a land-line because Verizon throws it in with FIOS internet and cable and our security system needs it.
posted by octothorpe at 8:00 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I call shenanigans on any under-30something who claims to not know what vinyl records are, but still listens to hip-hop of any form. What do they think the DJs are using?

Speaking from experience, as someone who used to dj with a collective/crew/whatever you want to call it, they use this, or even this.

Yes, you can use vinyl to control the apps, they even show that as an example photo right on the page! but it's heavy, expensive, and needlessly overcomplicated. Everyone just uses stuff like this. And even in the "professional world" this sort of thing is king at all but niche clubs, or by certain artists playing DJ sets or specific DJs. The only exceptions to that rule i've seen are where the club provides decks and notifies you in advance that you're using their decks, and expects you to just bring an audio interface and the software control records if you want to use software.

Carrying a couple expensive turntables and your records, or even just the records around is a liability. That shit is expensive. Whereas a cheap laptop or ipad can run the software, and all your files(and likely, hard copies of a lot of the music) are safely at home. It's actually unusual enough now that a lot of posters for shows where people actually are using vinyl make a point of advertising it and say "vinyl night!" or "70s funk - vinyl only" or "90s dance on real vinyl!" or whatever.

A more bulletproof argument on the "they would know" point though, is that anyone over the age of 14 knows that vinyl is "cool" and A Thing you want to have. I've been shocked by the number of high school kids i see digging through the vinyl at thrift shops when i'm there...
posted by emptythought at 8:12 PM on March 4


That's still with us from telephones whose guts were in rectangular wooden boxes mounted on the wall with a crank on the side to get the attention of a human telco employee and with an earpiece that looked like a cross between a salt shaker and an inkwell.

My grandparents kept theirs through my entire childhood, probably decades after the rest of the world had switched to regular telephones. I loved playing with it, but I can remember how irritated my parents were when they had to use it and how they'd try and get my grandparents to upgrade but they'd get crotchety and refuse.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:14 PM on March 4


When we moved into this house mumblemumble years ago, Ma Bell still had a party line going down the street. Buncha nosy biddies were always listening in. You sure learned to speak in shorthand and code fast.

I was in an older home in the oldest section of Boise, and there was a wooden telephone alcove, complete with the holes in the bottom. The young owners didn't have a clue what it was. Oddly enough, they had set it up for their cell phone rechargers.

Now, you damn kids get off my phone!
posted by BlueHorse at 8:30 PM on March 4


Since we're sharing stories from ye olden days, I never let Mrs agog forget the first time we finished watching a DVD ... and then she puzzled about the player a bit before finally asking, "Where's the rewind button?"

On the other hand, the first time I sent a fax, I nearly screwed up and faxed over the original document. My boss needed the original, and I'd nearly sent it off to California! Fortunately, I cleverly made a photocopy, and faxed over the photocopy, so that the original stayed with my boss.
posted by agog at 8:46 PM on March 4 [9 favorites]


Quest (I think) came around a year or so back and said they were doing line maintenance and pulling out old lines. I had a line going from the eave of my house, across the yard to the pole. Pretty ugly. We've been in this house since 2007 and have never had a landline. They asked me if I wanted them to pull the line. I said, "sure!" No line; no landline. I still feel kind of weird about it.
posted by amanda at 8:58 PM on March 4


When I moved to Lancaster County, PA in the mid-90s, the local phone company asked me if I wanted a party line (a private line cost more).

"You mean...like on Green Acres or whatever?"

There was a lot of call for them locally, as the Amish used them.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:58 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


"This made me remember the negotiating my sisters and I would do around channel changing and turning the volume up or down. It usually consisted of me and my middle sister bribing my youngest to do it. "

Oh man. When I was a little kid in the early 80s we had this TV set (probably from the mid-70s, I'd guess) that had buttons that were like little targets; you didn't actually PUSH the button, just touched it, and that completed the circuit when your finger touched the center bullseye and the edge together, and changed the channel. (I have been frantically hunting online to find a version of this to prove I didn't imagine it but so far no dice.) For whatever reason, some of the UHF stations with weak signals wouldn't stay on the channel unless someone stood there with their finger on the button. My dad used to come home from running ten miles, stinking to high heaven with smelly dad-sweat, and insist whichever child he managed to trap in the living room stand there next to the TV and hold down the button for whatever the precursor to Telemundo was so he could watch soccer while he did sit-ups. Did he speak Spanish? No! Did he like soccer? Of course not! He just liked to mess with his kids and make us hold the button.

Has he watched a soccer match or any Spanish-language television in the subsequent 30 years since we got cable TV and remote controls and stuff and nobody had to stand there holding the button? OBVIOUSLY NOT.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:19 PM on March 4


And I strangled
And I ripped the cord
And I saw the bone
And I heard these tweetin' things
'n twinklin' lights
'n there was nobody home
Where are all those nerve endings comin' out of the bone?
Telephone
Telephone

Well, I ripped the cord right out of the phone
'n I saw the bone
Dammed gleamin' white bone
Telephone
...
'n I can't get away
'n I can't get away
It’s like a grey adder at the end of the hall
It’s like a plastic horned devil

It's relevant because that last line will never make perfect sense if you didn't grow up around Bell-system rotary phones, so there!
posted by hap_hazard at 9:34 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Did anyone else in Southern CA call the remote a blabber or was that just my family?
posted by brujita at 10:48 PM on March 4


We called it "the clicker" in our Orange County home. When we weren't just miming the motion of holding it and pressing buttons.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:59 PM on March 4


I bought my daughter a Fisher Price rotary phone because I had one as a kid and well, nostalgia. It wasn't until I gave it to her that I realised she would have no idea what it is. She mostly just uses the handset to bang on the main body.
posted by Wantok at 6:07 PM


I was shopping for a gift for a baby shower a couple of years ago when neither my dad nor I could find the "play phone" that the family friend had registered for. We were looking for the rotary play phone I had when I was a kid, so it had to be big and on the shelf, right? Then, finally, we got to the hanging rack at aisle end and saw the product: "Baby's First Cell Phone." It was a bit of a shattering moment, shared across two generations.

(Now my own personal confession: I had to go look up what DTMF tones were, because all I could think was that they were buttons you pressed or sounds you made when you were about to Dump The Mother Fucker - or possibly use an operator to do so.)
posted by ilana at 11:15 PM on March 4


Growing up in Australia in the late 70s and early 80s, American phones were a source of fascination. Such long cords! In multiple rooms! In kids' bedrooms! A MODEM!

For us, making a long-distance call (to which we afixed the unfortunate moniker 'STD') was a quarterly event at best, to be started and completed within carefully planned timeframes to minimise the exorbitant cost.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:38 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Whenever I'm in someone's kitchen and get handed a beer, I somehow instinctively look around for a bottle opener under the counter. It seriously never occurred to me until now that they were a relic of the past. I just assumed that everywhere I'd lived since (and everywhere my friends lived) was somehow defective and that was why we had to hunt for a bottle opener. This is like when I discovered that Yorkshire pudding batter and pancake batter were the same and it wasn't a cosmic coincidence that Yorkshire pudding and pancakes tasted the same.

Hey! Just use your lighter or the countertop like everybody else, Ms. Fussy.

Though if somebody wanted to install a bottle opener in my kitchen cabinetry, I'd be happy (why have I never thought of that?!).

It's actually unusual enough now that a lot of posters for shows where people actually are using vinyl make a point of advertising it and say "vinyl night!" or "70s funk - vinyl only" or "90s dance on real vinyl!" or whatever.

Hold. The. PHONE. They have 90s hip hop dance nights? When? Where? Plz give me the 411 because I will be there in 1 second. Just the other day I was on a long Pandora journey through Waterfalls and Are You That Somebody? and No Scrubs (remember Pigeons?!) and Bills Bills Bills -- and I KNOW those aren't hip hop but I miss those songs. Ladies' R&B is still my favorite. They remind me of 8th grade prom, where one boy taught me to grind and another taught me to salsa and all the girls danced in a circle and I wore a lace-over-spandex dress and felt gorgeous. Almost but not better than senior prom, have to say.

Anyway, for everybody feeling old, I don't know if this will make you feel any younger but:

I turned 28 about three weeks ago, don't feel old at all, and we had a rotary phone when I was a young kid. A few of my friends back then didn't have phones in their houses at all, so it was kind of ELITE that we had a (rotary) phone, frankly. Though our cable service didn't include everything this one particular family of non-phone-havers did (like Flipper, those freaking lucky duck downstairs neighbors). We also used a wood-paneled TV -- we got it when some old lady asked for my dad's help, said that if he fixed it he could keep it, and he hit it hard enough to get the picture to come back. It didn't have a remote but did have all kinds of funky buttons that let you mess with the contrasts and stuff. We kept it on top of the (brown, 70s-era) fridge and I loved the hell out of it. We got a new TV (with a remote! which I obsesssssed over) when I was maybe 10 or so, the picture looked 3D to us and we could only watch it for about ten minutes at a stretch. After much, much begging and pleading on my part, we got a VHS player when I was in middle school -- this was maybe 1999? My parents finally got a DVD player sometime while I was in college -- frankly, I might have been the one to buy it for them, I know that my old DVD player and internet router are the ones they use now. Freaking luddites.

My parents still don't have cell phones (I keep trying to convince them to let me add them to my plan -- I blew money on an Apple 5c, of course -- but they're like GOVERNMENT TRACKING DEVICE and SO EXPENSIVE, HON and stuff. Little do they know they're completely off the map as-is). They have a cordless, which I guess is advanced enough for them. My grandma meanwhile still doesn't understand the concept of a web page.

Time marches on, I guess, but don't worry -- we're not old, it's just fast, and people are caught in all kinds of micro-eras, besides.
posted by rue72 at 12:20 AM on March 5


Reminds me of a vintage Peanuts collection I was reading a few years ago. One strip showed a character using a typewriter, which prompted the publisher to add a footnote explaining what this strange machine was. I suddenly felt like I was 100 years old.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:34 AM on March 5


I blew money on an Apple 5c, of course

Speaking of old... I read this and immediately thought of an Apple 2c.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:54 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]


On the other hand, the first time I sent a fax

This reminds me of the absolutely delightful receptionist at one of my first jobs. Our office had just installed a fax machine, the first one any of us had ever seen and she was charged with teaching the rest of us how to use it. Now, Betty (yes, her name was Betty), was nearing retirement and was quite dignified and prim, she was never seen outside of Proper Office Attire, down to the sheer hosiery and sensible heels. We all gathered around while Betty started her demonstration: she held up a report, intoned we must first remove all staples or clips and feed the document in the correct direction. What was the correct direction? "Face down and head first," she said and this very prim and proper woman took a step toward the fax machine and bowed deeply at the waist until the tip of her nose very nearly touched the outgoing document hopper.

To this day, on the rare occasions I find myself having to send a fax from a standalone machine, I still sort of bow toward it so I can remember which way to load the paper.
posted by jamaro at 1:28 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]


On the other hand, the first time I sent a fax, I nearly screwed up and faxed over the original document. My boss needed the original, and I'd nearly sent it off to California! Fortunately, I cleverly made a photocopy, and faxed over the photocopy, so that the original stayed with my boss.

Senior citizen Ma Biscuit tells of the first time she encountered a photocopier some fifty years ago in the workplace. They were thermal in those days, so to test how it worked, she photocopied her driver's license... which then caught fire. Yeah, I dunno. This prefigures much of my own relationship with technology.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:46 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Pruitt-Igoe: "Speaking of old... I read this and immediately thought of an Apple 2c."

Please, it's: IIc.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:56 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


My 9 year old daughter knows all about dial phones thanks to the model 500 I have sitting in my den. I got it as a gift from my parents when I moved out to go to college in 1981 or 1982 and it has been in use ever since. At some point I opened it up and replaced the old 4 prong plug with a modern connector but it has otherwise functioned perfectly for over 30 years. In that same time I have gone through dozens of other more modern phones.

Now I need to explain why people make a cranking motion with their hands to get someone to roll their car window down.
posted by TedW at 6:01 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Yeah, we had a rotary phone until well into the 70's. It was always a drag because we could never win a radio contest because it took too long to dial (Be the 5th caller!).

The trick was to go ahead and start dialing before they said, "Call now!" so you'd only have one or two digits left to dial. (I won lots of radio contests.)
posted by JanetLand at 6:10 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Hold. The. PHONE.

What kind of phone? :-)

The trick was to go ahead and start dialing before they said, "Call now!" so you'd only have one or two digits left to dial. (I won lots of radio contests.)

I used to join a bunch of friends in competing in Williams College's trivia contest every year (not a Williams alum, long story), which was broadcast out of Willams' College radio station. And thus, required you to dial in to the station to answer the bulk of the questions. We were a team that drove up from New York, and usually had to find some big classroom to compete out of; so one of our permanent team members was a guy who did the telephone networking for a couple of big corporations in the city, so he could bring his tool pack and help us hotwire a phone jack up so we could dial. We also usually recruited a couple other people to take whatever spare rotary or touchtone phones they had for us to use for the contest, and one woman distinguished herself as a guru of "how to dial all but the last number and then wait until the very last second" so she always manned the phones and then we'd shout answers at her.

Today the contest is streamed live over a web site and people use IM and Skype. Tempus fugit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:38 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


> (lovingly polishes black 30s Bakerlite phone on nearby desk)

Is there a brand named Bakerlite, or do you mean bakelite*), as invented by Leo Baekeland, who was born in Belgium in 1863?
(The more you know!)

*) Over here in the Low Lands, we spell that bakeliet.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:16 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Next Up: Kids discover televisions with mechanical UHF and VHF tuners and NO REMOTES!

Back when the ottawa senators were losing in the playoffs some classmates of mine brought a tv to school to watch the game while working in the lab. I thought they were idiots because there was no cable to plug it into. Despite watching broadcast tv and wrestling with rabbit ears and tinfoil for the first 25 years of my life I had completely forgotten about it.


[Now that cable costs a billion dollars a month I have a set of rabbit ears connected to my 42 inch tv. Sometimes the past becomes the future again]
posted by srboisvert at 7:17 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Gungho, we had a 4 party line about the same time. If we hadn't gotten the phone turned off there, it would probably still be a party line. Our neighbors liked the situation because we were never around so they could use their modem all day long without anybody complaining.

The first few times I tried to call out from there as a kid, I failed. After dialing, the operator would come on the line and ask "what number are you calling from?" I didn't know, so I'd just hang up.
posted by wierdo at 7:24 AM on March 5


Oh, also, I have a friend who's about seven years older than me, who always, even though we all have cell phones now, says his name when he calls.
It cracks me up, because he's a serious tech guy, and surely he must know I see his name on my phone before I answer. Old habits, I guess.


I'm three years younger than you Mister Moofoo, and though I've had call display on my landline for years, I'm still in the habit of answering the phone without looking at who is calling. I am constantly annoyed that people launch into conversation without introducing themselves, leaving me guessing. Especially when they just start with, "Hey." giving me no clues. So yes, old habits die hard.
posted by Kabanos at 7:24 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


On the 11 Modern Antiques list, #8 is a "Milk Chute". I admit I've never seen one of those, and I've lived in older houses — is it a regional thing? Coal chutes I'd understand, though.

As for the wall-mounted bottle opener, if you don't already have one in your kitchen (or wherever you do your drinking), do yourself a favor and acquire one. I'd recommend mounting it above the garbage can, personally. Those who want something less retro can get this spiffy alternate design. You will spend like 5 minutes installing it and then you can feel smug every single time you use it, forever.

While the true church key (the pointy one used to puncture cans) may be on the decline, I think the traditional bottle opener has lots of life left. If anything, the rise of craft/micro/home brews has made pry-off beer bottles more common than they probably were 20 years ago.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:29 AM on March 5


Kabanos echos my opinion on caller ID. I suspect a fair number of folks answer w/o looking if they are using a music player and have their headphones on.

The flip side of "that makes me feel old" is the much more pleasant "this would have been science fiction twenty years ago".

Indeed. The behavioral changes are kind of interesting & fun w/o being depressing too. The Cartalk puzzler one week was a good one about that; it involved someone walking into a woman's office for a late-day meeting and her saying "hold on a second; I want to see if I can get my husband to stop to pick something up at the store before he gets home." So she picks up the phone, dials, says "hi honey" when he answers. She then asks a question which, if we had heard someone ask someone on the phone twenty years prior, we would have thought that she was losing her mind.

The question was "where are you," which it used to be you'd know with absolute certainty if you were the one who called someone.
posted by phearlez at 9:48 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


The question was "where are you," which it used to be you'd know with absolute certainty if you were the one who called someone.

Which reminds me that phones would frequently have a slip of paper with their number on them, so you could tell someone which number they could reach you at.

Not to mention the sticker with the three local emergency numbers under the receiver.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 2:52 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


I still see the label with the number on it pretty frequently on conference phones in meeting rooms.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:02 PM on March 5


I recognized at least 3 of the kids from having them do similar things before. One specifically who does a puzzled-look REAL good (the little girl w/sweater and necklace).

The sound of the rotary dialing is special. It can be quite haunting. The Beatles "Come Together" nails it so beautifully. Did they know that sound was going extinct?
posted by Goofyy at 11:50 PM on March 5


pbrim: "When I worked for a small phone company in a college town in the 80's, for a while we had a very popular service. You could have multiple phone numbers assigned to the same address, each with a distinctive ring. "

BC Tel called this SmartRing. I had it for my BBS because it allowed my to run a BBS and voice mail on the same line. The standard ring was for voice calls and the SmartRing (which was a pair of shorter rings for each regular ring) for the BBS. The BBS was set to answer after 5 rings (which looked like only 3 rings to the voice mail system) and my voice mail after 4 rings.

Diablevert: "Maybe this is a derail, but seriously, Canadians, why are your telcos so terrible? I mean, ours are terrible, but at least they're not still charging us for long-distance, and we've got like no regulations whatsoever anymore."

Because we have the population of California spread across an area greater than the US and a dozen different regulatory bodies.

zardoz: "But Mom and Dad, in their cruel shortsightedness, up and decided to kill it dead. Yet this now useless number sticks with me, and will forever"

My sisters and I have preserved our childhood phone number by each making it the last four digits of our cell numbers.
posted by Mitheral at 10:18 AM on March 30 [1 favorite]


While the true church key (the pointy one used to puncture cans) may be on the decline, I think the traditional bottle opener has lots of life left. If anything, the rise of craft/micro/home brews has made pry-off beer bottles more common than they probably were 20 years ago.

hipsters, man.(as a side note, at least the beer is actually good)

Oh man. When I was a little kid in the early 80s we had this TV set (probably from the mid-70s, I'd guess) that had buttons that were like little targets; you didn't actually PUSH the button, just touched it, and that completed the circuit when your finger touched the center bullseye and the edge together, and changed the channel. (I have been frantically hunting online to find a version of this to prove I didn't imagine it but so far no dice.)

Even though i'm younger than you, i remember these types of buttons. Some things as recently as even the first playstation 3's used those types of buttons. I'm also just old enough to remember this silly game of holding the antenna, or touching a specific part of the TV so it would get a better signal.

...Which is actually something i resent about digital OTA tv. It's pretty all or nothing. With analog tv you could get a "good enough" signal and sit down to watch the simpsons and eat your microwave dinner or kraft macaroni or whatever. With the digital stuff now if it starts to lose signal at all it just turns into a blocky glitchy mess then goes black and gives up.

As a similar riff on the topic of this thread though, which i just remembered... my family dad was in the early 90s, the only person i'd ever encounter as a young kid who had a cell phone. Well, other than his boss(who decided that they TOTALLY needed them and ponied up the hilarious, google glass right now kind of prices for them). I have some funny memories of taking that to show and tell, a bully stealing it from my backpack, then the teacher calling it and it ringing in his cubby.

But another thing i remember is us being the first people i knew or saw to get caller ID. Amazingly, i was able to goole an image of the unit. It was bulky, cost at least $100, and had a really awkward wall mount bracket. It also took a large wall-wart. The red triangle in the corner flashed VERY brightly when you had voice mail or missed calls.

I hated that thing so much. If i was in trouble for something, i couldn't even answer if a friend called. So they would be left thinking i wasn't home, or just didn't want to talk to them. Without the thing, i would have been able to answer and go "Oh hey, my mom says i can't be on the phone right now, sorry". That way of doing things always felt really rude and arbitrary to me.

Looking back, the unit itself is actually sort of cool in a 90s proto-future sort of way. But JESUS did i hate it at the time. It's weird how clearly you can remember specific instances of stupid unfair-seeming at the time punishment from childhood. I also totally remember what every cryptic combo of the 3 face buttons did to navigate the menus. I wish there was a video of it, the screen re-rendered in a really cool sweeping way kind of like a kindle does now, or as i thought at the time as a nerdy child, the way everything slid in all animated-like on the LCARS panels in star trek TNG.
posted by emptythought at 3:02 PM on March 30 [1 favorite]


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