Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lack of technology leads to reflection -- column from Sunday's paper

I used to have a phone-finder. One of those clunky square boxes that sat next to the black rotary dial telephone. The phone-finder had a column of letters from A-Z on the outside of the device, and a lever that you slid down to find the letter that correlated to the last name of the person you wanted to call.

Then you’d poke your finger in a hole in the dial and whirl it clockwise until it stopped on the finger rest. The dial sounded like you were using a tiny handsaw to cut a 2x4 each time you dialed a number. When you released the dial, it would make a clicking sound on its way back to the original position.

When my folks got our first phone, we were on a party-line which meant we shared the same telephone line with a neighbor. Each family on the party-line had a distinctive ring – one long ring for one family, and maybe two short rings for the other. There were also four party-lines, and eight party-lines which called for creative ring combinations – RING RING RRRIIIINNNNGGGGG.

Other than having a busybody neighbor that liked to listen in on conversations, we got by just fine. If you were on the phone and a neighbor needed to use the phone, they might interrupt your call to say, “I have an important call to make, can I please have the line for a few minutes?” For the most part it was always civil.

But through the years, the party-line phones faded away like rabbit ear TV antennas, and eight-track tapes. In their place came slimline, trimline, princess and designer phones made overseas. The dials were replaced by numeric keypads, and speed-dialers. Technology marched on.

Then in the late 1980’s the personal computer hit the market. The first ones cost more than a used car. IBM gave away the rights to the PC operating system software (DOS), because they didn’t think anyone would want a personal computer in their home. The only future they saw was with huge mainframe computers.

Bill Gates, on the other hand had an idea, and soon Microsoft was born. Gates’ vision made him one of the richest people on the planet.

The first PC’s were stand alone, meaning they weren’t connected to anything, but then in the early 1990’s the Internet gained in popularity and for the first time, computers could connect to the world wide web. People started emailing, sharing pictures, video, documents, music, bad jokes and urban legends. Technology marched on.

Today, my phone-finder is my iPhone. I can touch a button (or simply say the name) to bring up my contacts and not only find the name and phone number in an instant, but I see their picture, their mailing address, their email address, their birthday and shoe size if I happen to need that information.

The problem with all this technology is that when disaster strikes like it did here in Alabama, a lot of the technology that you depend on is practically worthless. I went into tech withdrawals on day two. The tornado blew down cell towers and damaged the Charter Communications cables which provide my Internet connection to the world.

A few days into the Internet outage I started twitching and seeing things out of the corner of my eyes, but after a week, I figured out how to function. I now grab my laptop and drive to the nearest McDonald’s where they have free wireless that allows me to get my email, update my blog and check Facebook for birthdays.

Now that I’ve had time to slow down and reflect, I miss the days of my old phone-finder and the whirl and click of my clunky old telephone.


  1. It is disconcerting to realize how we can be cut off from the world in just a few seconds.

  2. I think of how much technology I've bought, used and discarded since 1979 when I started my business with a magcard typewriter.

    For me being connected 24/7/365 is a thing that's happened only in the past decade.

  3. I just want my phone to call me..it doesn't have to do anything else..just ring and I'll answer..I don't text..I don't have a phone with a keyboard after all..I get made fun of. It's really very sad. I'm still amazed I have a blog and I can do posts and comment and upload pics. Most days I feel like a tech dinosaur that's going to be extinct. But I'll always thankful that Al Gore invented the internet..aren't you?

  4. My friend just had to answer this question in an exam he did "Would today's civilization cope without the internet?" My short answer to that would have been "yes". :-)

    Take care

  5. Oh, phone finders - we used to get into trouble by playing with them when I was a kid. As for relying on tech, you're right - it can be a real hassle when you suddenly lose access to your phone list. I still keep a handwritten list of 12 most important phone numbers in my wallet in case of emergency. (And to keep the brain exercised, I try and memorize as many as I can.)

  6. There is a pro and a con for everything. I try to memorize the phone numbers and dial them then to utilize my contact list (which I still use as a back up). You never know when you won't have access!

  7. we used to have one of those phone finders. I had forgotten all about that. I loved to play with it as a kid. Our wall phone was pink, and while our little town was beyond the party lines by the time I came along, Ornery's family still had them up until the late 1970's. In fact, we had a few conversations when we were dating that were listened in on. How embarrassing! :)

    I am glad you are back on line and able to use your technology again. We who have lived without it are certainly more prepared for times when it is suspended than those who have always had it. But I really do NOT miss that pink wall phone.


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