Posted by: Kath Usitalo | January 18, 2011

Homefront: On The Telephone

My two phones, separated by 60 years of technology

If you must tap numbers on a key pad to call someone on a cell phone—er, mobile device—why is the function still called “dialing?”

In January 1915 Alexander Graham Bell placed the first transcontinental telephone call from New York to Thomas Augustus Watson in San Francisco. The transmission was a long way from their first exchange in March 1876 when Graham patented his telephone and he called to his assistant, “Mr. Watson, come here! I want to see you!”

A century of phones displayed at Henry Ford Museum

I was thinking about the beginnings of the communications device the other day as I studied dozens of telephones on display at Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. Although their looks have changed dramatically and the technology has improved, the basic function is the same. With the right wiring you could plug an antique phone to a wall jack and be connected with the world.

Young kids looking at the bulky contraptions of wood, wire and metal couldn’t relate to the foreign objects; one boy doubted his mother as she explained that the brick in a black bag—the Motorola Tough-Talker Transportable from 1988—was the forerunner of the cellphone that fits in a pocket.

Here at the home in the 313 as well as at Blue Skies we have a variety of phones, both cordless and land lines that don’t require electricity to operate. I like the sound of the ringer on the old models and to have the option of dialing, just for the nostalgia of it. We have a wall phone with rotary dial hanging in the basement and years ago a visiting youth had to be shown how to dial the instrument.

For my birthday last year I received a classic desktop phone, which I learned at the museum is the 500 Series Western Electric designed by Henry Dreyfuss in 1949. Mine is red; the one in the exhibit is a lovely avocado green.

In October I decided, with Graham’s prompting, to go Droid and I’m still attempting to learn and utilize its bazillion features. Already I wonder how I was able to function for so long without a telephone that doubles as a flashlight.

The technology is amazing and I’m sure I’ll come to appreciate it, but I know that I’ll blink and the Droid will be obsolete while decades from now my 500 Series will still be functional.


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