Telephony, that is, Land Line Telephones and Socialization


All right, my devoted fans, (of three or so), get the privilege of hearing about my childhood again.  As I grew up, what use did I make of “land line” telephones?  Did it change what I am today?  What if we had not had telephones?  Like the telegraph, the telephone had a profound impact on the world’s communication culture with the ability to send messages instantaneously.  Unlike the telegraph, after the era of switchboard operators, there was no person in between yourself and your receiver.  Your message came directly from your mouth to the ears of another.   I myself, (who proudly states that I was not alive when telephones were NOT around) do not remember NOT having a telephone.   We had a telephone in the kitchen and in my mother’s bedroom.  The one in the kitchen was affixed to the wall, and had a very long handset coiled cord so that it was long enough to bring into the living room for lengthy conversations.  I, not so proudly state, that at that time there was no caller ID, no answering phones, no call waiting.  If you called someone and they were on the phone, you’d get a busy signal, or if they were not at home, it would ring endlessly, end of story.  Call back later.

The "Princess" telephone, very popular style for many years. (I think I still have one in the closet stored away)

I remember my mom having long conversations on the phone sometimes, but as a small child, I did not.  I have struggled to find the purpose in which I or my family used the phone when I was growing up.  My earliest memories are when we lived on Virginia Street in Charleston, West Virginia.  I recall we did not have a car, so we had our groceries delivered.  Can any of you imagine having groceries delivered to your home these days?  It seems most uncanny to think about it, but my mom called in the order and voila, hours later, a boy came knocking on the door with boxes of groceries.  Sometimes we would walk to the grocery store, which was several blocks away, but I suppose that was not always feasible.  Actually, I don’t even know any of my friends who had their groceries delivered, but we did.  Anyway, that is beside the point.

Early on, before I hit puberty, I do not remember talking much on the phone at all.  I called my mom everyday when I came home from school to check in.  I spoke with my best friend who lived across the street for only a few moments from time to time, and that was usually just to say, “hey, come over and play!”.  I spent more time with friends in person, playing with neighbor friends, and going to school events rather than talking on the phone.  I do not think it would have been a huge impact had we not had the phone.  My friends would have simply walked over to our place, or I theirs, and knock on the door vs. calling.  School, church, and everything we needed was all within walking distance.

Later, during adolescence, I remember talking somewhat more on the phone with friends, mostly with a couple of my best friends, but still, I did not spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone.  Sometimes, at friends’ houses, we would spend the entire evening either taking turns talking to other friends not present, or making crank calls.  But for the most part, I remember spending time outside playing, with the neighbor kids until dark, or over at one of my good friends’ houses.  To sum it up, I think the main use of the phone back then was to make plans to meet in person, take care of business, minimal social interaction when meeting in person was not possible, or to talk to a distant relative or friend, occasionally.

What impact did the telephone have on my development as a communicator?  Actually, I am not certain it did have much of an impact.  Since I spent more time with people in person than talking on the phone, I think most of my socialization took place in person, not on the phone.  Other than making plans to meet up, gossiping with friends, or passing along news and information quicker than you would had you been required to wait until the next social engagement, or the next day in school to communicate, I honestly do not think the telephone had a great impact on socialization in that day, at least not for myself.  It merely enabled a vehicle for faster communication, and therefore, the passing of information more quickly.

I think today’s cell phones have had much more of a social impact than the land line telephones did.  Yesterday’s land line served as a tool to communicate when it was impossible or less convenient to have a face to face conversation.  Today’s cell phones, with texting, social networking sites, and tweeting, has somewhat replaced face to face social interaction.  It has allowed us to communicate with larger numbers of people all at the same time, yes, but I wonder about a decrease in true social interaction vs. communication through technology.  Are we becoming a society who is losing their ability to become truly socialized and taking a step backwards in learning how to interact with one another?  I will not address that subject because it is a complicated one, nor was it the question, but it is something to think about.  I have a feeling the use of cell phones will be coming up in another blog soon.

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One thought on “Telephony, that is, Land Line Telephones and Socialization

  1. I think you were truly privileged to have grown up in a generation of people who interacted personally with one another rather than with an anonymous machine. Even though we think we can’t do without caller id, call waiting, voice mail, etc, we managed quite well then. Perhaps that might go a long way in explaining the child violence that is so prevalent in today’s society. We see people as “its” rather than human beings with feelings.

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