I was recently filling out some paperwork which required me to jot down my contact information. Name, address, email, cell phone. But the next line really threw me for a loop:
Suddenly I realized I haven’t had a landline in more than five years. Neither have most of my friends. But how can that be? Everyone had a land line just a few short years ago. Not having a phone in your house was just inconceivable. But with the advent of cell phones and reasonable calling plans, you just don’t need one anymore. So, naturally I started thinking about all the other technology and commonplace items of my youth which had gone, or are going, the way of the Dodo.
Then I imagined myself talking to Will 10 years from now. Maybe we’re cleaning out the attic one day and stumble upon a box of antiquated items. What would that conversation be like?
ME: Oh cool, my old Walkman!
WILL: Huh? It doesn’t look like a man and I don’t think it walks.
ME: No no no, this played music. You put your headphones on, slap a cassette tape in there and you could listen to music on the go.
WILL: So it’s like a really ugly iPod. But what’s a tape?
ME: It’s what they stored music on before CDs.
WILL: What’s a CD?
ME: Oh sweet God.
WILL: Dad, what the heck is this thing?
ME: No way!! Buddy that’s a rotary phone!
WILL: That thing is a phone? But it’s bigger than my head!
ME: Yeah. You used to have to put your finger in the slot and turn it all the way to the right one number at a time. Calling someone used to take hours. You knew it was important if someone with a rotary phone was calling you just because of the time commitment it involved to place one call. And God forbid you screwed up the number halfway through.
WILL: That sounds awful.
ME: Well it was better than having to use a pay phone.
WILL: Everyone still has to pay for their phone.
ME: No. A pay phone was a public phone located outside on street corners. You used to go into the booth, put quarters in the phone and then you could make a call. But it only lasted a couple of minutes and then you had to put more money in.
WILL: You guys should’ve just signed up for unlimited minutes. But dad, I still don’t understand this rotary phone. If this is a phone why does it have a cord? And where’s the LCD screen for videos or the speakers for music? Heck, how did you even know who was calling you?
ME: There was no caller ID back then son. You had no idea who was calling. It was an adventure every time you picked up the phone because you had no clue who was on the other end. Like you were tempting fate. It was kind of a thrill.
WILL: So I would’ve had no way to ignore all the calls from you and mom back then?
ME: Frightening isn’t it?
WILL: Hey what’s this thing? Is that like the first iPad ever made?
ME: No, that’s a pocket calculator. Your mom used to use that to tally up all of our bills and do the finances. You set it next to you and do all your math.
WILL: You guys didn’t have calculators on your phones and laptops?
ME: Rotary phone, remember pal?
WILL: That’s just sad.
ME: Hey buddy, grab those phone books so we can throw them out OK?
WILL: A book of phones? What are you talking about?
ME: Those huge books over there. They have everyone’s phone number listed in them so if you needed to look someone up you just flipped through the phone book, found their number and dialed. They also doubled as booster seats for young kids who couldn’t reach the table, and sometimes your Uncle Nate and I used them as weapons.
WILL: What about these books with all the pictures and stuff in them?
ME: Oh wow. Our Encyclopedia Britannica collection. I used to use these for book reports and research projects when I was growing up. They have all the information you’ll ever need on everything.
WILL: Isn’t it all on Wikipedia? And isn’t the Internet better than having all these huge books in the house?
ME: Well wise ass, before the Internet you either could use these in your house or you had to go to the library.
WILL: What’s a library?
ME: I’m gonna have a heart attack.
WILL: Well, if you were having a heart attack and I had to use this rotary phone to call for help, you’d be dead before I could dial 911.
ME: Very funny. Now come over here and help me bring these things downstairs. If this VCR still works we can watch home movies of when me and Uncle Nate were just little kids.
WILL: I don’t get it. These tapes are like plastic bricks. How do they play movies? Does this VCR thing hook up to YouTube somehow?
ME: No it doesn’t connect to YouTube. In the old days you had a video camera and you taped people. Then you put the tape in the VCR to watch it. Soon you had a whole collection of tapes and you had to label them to make sure you knew what’s on which tape. And I think this is the video of when we went to the Grand Canyon. Do you know where that is? Here, I’ll show it to you on this Atlas.
WILL: OK. Let me get this straight. You had gigantic phones that took forever to dial and had no way to see who was calling you. And if you didn’t have a phone, you went out and kept putting quarters into a slot in a phone out on the street. If you wanted to call someone you had to look their number up in a huge book. If you wanted information on anything else, you needed to sort through a series of other gigundo books. And if you didn’t have those, you needed to go to this library place that did nothing but store other huge books. You did your math on huge ugly calculators. You stored your memories on massive tapes which, judging by the look of them, you forgot to label so you have to sort through each one manually to find what you’re looking for?
ME: Yeah. Those were the good old days.
WILL: My phone makes calls quickly. I can ignore calls quickly too because it tells me who’s calling. And I don’t need to continuously carry quarters around to keep my phone working. It also plays music. I can take a video of you right now, upload it to Twitter and store it on YouTube so everyone in the world can see it in a matter of seconds. If I need a phone number I can look it up on the Internet. Which, coincidentally, I can also use to find out any information I need to know much quicker than breaking my back with this thick encyclopedia.
In fact, Dad, I didn’t want to bum you out but I haven’t read an actual book since I was a little kid. All my reading is done on my Kindle now. Which, if I’m not mistaken, is where people read all of your news stories right? And FYI, the Grand Canyon is in Arizona. Wanna know how I know that? Because it took me three seconds to Google Map “Grand Canyon” which gave me precise GPS coordinates. All before you even found Arizona in that huge Atlas book. So tell me, how can you possibly consider those the “good old days?”
ME: You damn kids…
—Photo Willy D/Flickr