News and Notes from David Carroll: Throw Me a Landline
Here’s a blast from the past: a phone attached to a wall. These days, if we were suddenly confined to a phone cord that only allowed about three meters of space, we would go crazy. What? We can’t talk on the phone when we’re on the porch, in the backyard, or more importantly, in the doctor’s office waiting room? What would we ever do with ourselves?
I remember being jealous when I visited a friend’s house, with one of those extra long telephone cables. It was hanging down to the ground. However, there was a downside. When stretched to the maximum, the cord allowed my friend’s mother to venture into the living room. More than once we kids would run around aimlessly and do clotheslines. If “America’s Funniest Home Videos” had existed back then, we could have made some money.
Cell phones have made landlines obsolete. We said goodbye to operators, tangled cords, and even those beloved busy signals. You should see the looks on my young friends’ faces when I use that term. While waiting to speak to someone involved in a face-to-face conversation, I would say, “We should wait a minute. His line is busy. They look at me as if I speak Latin.
I may be one of the last humans with a phone book on my desk. Twenty-somethings approach it as if it were a rare ancient scroll.
They listen in awe as I explain party lines. When I told them that in the past the whole neighborhood could listen to our family’s phone conversations, they were stunned. “Wait,” they said. “Could the people next door just pick up the phone and listen?” “Yes, they might,” I replied. “With people in about eight other homes.” “So all these people couldn’t make a call until you were done?” they asked. “Well,” I replied, “they would just have to wait. Unless they are really rude and interrupt you and tell you to hang up. Oh yes, it happened.
Finally, to prevent a family from occupying a neighborhood line, the telephone company limited each call to six minutes. You got a ten second warning, then it was (CLICK!) goodbye, whether you liked it or not.
Party lines were a way of life until the 1970s. “Private lines” became available, at an extra charge of course, as it was a great luxury.
People have vivid memories of party lines. We remember old ladies talking about their neighbors, who could hear every word. There were no secrets. We all knew who was sick, who was in trouble with the law, and who was having fun with whom.
A friend told me, “My aunt listened to the neighbors all day. She sat there quietly and was so engrossed in conversation that she blurted out answers to questions other people were asking. She was so embarrassed when they yelled at her to hang up!
Now we depend on Facebook to tell us who’s dating who, who’s had a baby, and whose arthritis is acting up. Who needs a shared line when you have a computer?
From time to time, I think about the usefulness of our fixed telephone. Our parents who regularly dialed this number are no longer with us. Our remaining landline callers are telemarketers who care more about our car warranties than we do. The only apparent service provided by the landline is to interrupt my nap.
The last time I used the landline was to call my cell phone because I had misplaced it. In that sense, it serves as a $30 per month follow-up service, as long as the cell phone is in my house and the ringer is not muted.
After chatting with my neighbors, I learned that most had disconnected their landline phones. With us, the fixed line remains intact. Before long, I expect people to slow down as they pass my house, pointing and laughing at “The Landline Guy.” Go ahead, I can take it. In fact, enter. We’ll be mounting the stereo so you can enjoy my collection of 8-track cassettes.
(David Carroll is a Chattanooga newscaster, and his new book “Hello Chattanooga: Famous People Who Have Visited the Tennessee Valley” is available on his website, ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You can contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at [email protected])