11 Apr

The telephone. From its invention in the late 19th century to now the telephone and its use has continually evolved. Switchboard dialing to cellphones, telephony has dramatically changed our communication and memory recall behavior. As with any technology the telephone has seen a number of innovations. The candlestick phone, rotary phone, touch-tone phones and now the cell phone. What will be next? And what else will it change? All I know is that the way we use telephones is quite different from how we used them a decade ago.

I grew up in the 1980s and remember quite fondly the novelty of using rotary phones. As a child I thought that it was fun inserting my fingers into the holes and listening to the sounds it made as I was dialing. There were no “press ones” and certainly no need to distinguish the use of a rotary phone versus a touch-tone phone. Not only has the design and technology of the phone changed, so too has its use and placement in our lives. The more portable and feature-filled smart phones are now phasing out the traditional landline. The features, now standard and taken for granted, are the very same ones that were charged at premium rates in the not so distant past. Remember when call waiting and caller id were an additional $10 or more per month?! As a child in Jamaica I remember the luxury of the telephone and how few people in various parts of the island had them. In my grandparents’ neighborhood there were only one or two families with a telephone…or television. And forget about the handwritten letter or note, that’s now replaced by Facebook and Twitter.

With the widespread affordability and availability of landlines people used phone books, directories and their own minds to remember phone numbers. Most adults can attest to this. We’d be able to rattle off a slew of phone numbers without batting an eye. Now, many people couldn’t even tell you their own cell phone number without looking it up. Think of how much has change. We depend on our phones to keep track of our lives, and as many people say and have experienced first hand, without it we’d be lost.

I still remember at least 20 of my most commonly used phone numbers. From my cell, work, parents’ home, best friend, etc. I make it a note to keep in my mind the things that are still important. My phone is a great tool but technology sometimes has a way of being ornery and telephones even get lost. Despite the shift to cell phones becoming an individual’s primary phone, I still keep my home line as well. Even though I no longer need it in order to have Internet service at home, I tell myself that if the cell phone towers go down then I’ll still have my home phone. Maybe it’s that same thinking as to why I also ensure that I remember so many phone numbers. How many can you remember? Can you recite your phone number? Your parents’?

As so many things change I think more and more about whether the changes are for the best. While we develop new and wonderful skills and technologies, we also lose some of the things that make us more resourceful as an individual. It’s a matter of finding the right balance. As we’re taught in school, we need to understand the how and not just depend on the results. Remembering phone numbers is engrained in me and so too is the song that made one famous.

This article appeared on page 5A in the 4/11/12 issue of The Union-Recorder. It’s modified title, Telephone: 867-5309.


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