The Evolution of the Telephone


I am old enough to remember rotary-dial phones. I am old enough to remember when you could make a call from a phone booth for just a dime – when outdoor phone booths were almost as common as telephone polls. I even remember party lines – my Grammy and Grampy’s phone would sound out odd little sequences of rings (“One long, two short: that’s a call for my cousin Mable who lives just up the road.”). Sometimes, a neighbour would carefully take the phone off the hook, place their hand over the mouthpiece, and listen in to hear the latest gossip until someone on the other end shouted at them to ‘mind their own business and get off the phone’.

I recall with absolute clarity the first time my workplace sent and received a fax. We all crowded around, amazed and more than a little in awe – as the ‘test’ fax we had just sent to an office many miles away came back with an excited response scribbled along the bottom of the page. The advent of e-mail a few years later was, of course, absolutely astounding to all of us. As was the transition to computers: when not just the clerical staff – but every single person in the building – got their own computers. And all of a sudden, every business had to create an IT department.

Sometime in the nineties, mobile phones became the next big ‘thing’, although back then, they were still a rarity. I used to travel by train and bus quite a lot for my work and the few people who owned a phone seemed to have one common goal: to let everyone in the immediate vicinity know that they had one. “HEY, JOHN,” they would yell into the mouthpiece. “I’M ON THE TRAIN! NO, THE TRAIN!… THE TRAIN! HELLO? HELLO? YES, THE TRAIN! HELLO?” Ever the polite Canadian, I would inwardly roll my eyes and – when I could – move to a quieter spot to continue preparing for whatever meeting I was going to.

And then cell phones began showing up in more and more places. I was appalled the first time I noticed a couple at a restaurant, clearly on a date: he, leaning far back in his seat, legs crossed, importantly carrying on a long and detailed work conversation with someone; she sitting quietly, eyes down, eating her meal alone. I wanted to cry. I wanted to shake him out of his 400$ shoes. I wanted to tell her to run, not walk, to the nearest exit. But ever the polite Canadian, again, I said nothing.

I am not sure when my relief at the demise of the telephone shouters became instead a disquieting feeling in the pit of my stomach. For awhile, the silence came as such a relief, I didn’t immediately notice that people were no longer shouting into the mouthpieces of their cell phones: instead, they were all quietly typing non-stop; heads and eyes down; fingers moving in a blur.

Please don’t get me wrong: there are many things that I like about cell phones. They are great to have when your car breaks down on the highway. They are wonderful when you are stuck behind a big accident in traffic and you have to let your family know that you are safe but will be late. They are amazing for staying in touch with your adult children – especially when they are travelling. And having an ever-present, portable little camera allows you to capture wonderful unforgettable moments. I also concede that they are essential for the self-employed, who do not have an office or regular office hours.

But I have yet to understand: who needs a cell phone while they are taking a walk in the woods with their dog? When they are out walking their child in a stroller? When they are out on a date? Who needs a cell phone at a family-reunion dinner? In church? During a one-hour company meeting? At a town parade? At a funeral? Who is that important; what is so important that it cannot wait an hour? Or two?

I see people everywhere now, wearing their phones like an appendage, soundlessly going about their days. And honestly, I think that I would rather have the phone shouters back than to live another day surrounded by this terrible, deafening silence…

Source of image

Patti Moore Wilson/©


Author: Patti Moore Wilson, wednesdayschild2

I write what I feel. And I rarely know exactly what I feel until I write. I have lived long enough to have known many joys and many sorrows. I have made many mistakes; I have forgiven myself for a few… I have learned that there are lessons in every step of this journey, if we only take the time to pay attention… I hope you will feel free to pick and choose the stories that resonate for you…

22 thoughts on “The Evolution of the Telephone”

      1. Pu..leeese… I checked yours out and as usual, you are WAY funnier than I will ever be. Funny wins out every time (like, really…). Oh, and as usual, VERY hard to pick a winner: it was a toss up between ‘liar times infinity’ and ‘This allowed people to delay having fun to take a selfie of themselves about to have fun’. 😂😂😂

        Liked by 2 people

      2. In all seriousness, I agree with you on the cell phone. When I get home from work, I keep it far away from me. I just don’t feel the need to be accessible all the time…

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I do not even OWN one…I am retired and text apps (or Skype) are necessary for staying connected with my kids, but I have to be somewhere with an Internet connection to use them. I do miss having a phone when I’m on the road though, but that’s about it. Glad to hear you are able to disconnect. It really scares me how much we ‘need’ our phones now…😳

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Thanks Patti. We were the last community to have a private phone company before Ma Bell bought them out. I have wonderful stories of that era. We are having a great vacation but miss the internet. Love you both Ilze

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s now an addiction. Social networks pressure you to be very active, not your friends or followers, and they take over our lives and get in the way of our relationships and our experiences.

    On the other hand, I get a lot out of Instagram. It’s a way to meet people around the world and to learn new things. I still consider my blog to be new (since November) and I like connecting with people here too. Now I’m spending a lot of time on Duolingo and now that has a social component to hook us in, although not as intense.

    So in spite of how this comment started out, our phones our completely integrated into our lives.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have my phone with me when I walk. Not only to collect photos for blog fodder, but once I had to call 911 when I saw a man laying in a ditch. If I had been farther away from home when I took a tumble last fall, I would have had to call my husband for help to get home. I definitely agree that some are addicted to their phones (have you ever seen a couple at the restaurant, and they’re not even paying attention to one another because they’re both busy texting?) but cell phones are very handy in an emergency situation.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m in my 40s and i think it’s incredible how much has changed. I love the old rotary phones, how long it took to dial an important number. The anxiety of calling a crush and hoping their parents didn’t answer etc. The lack of privacy if the house phone was in a common area. Such a luxury when our family bought a second phone!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. My grandmother ran a telephone exchange from her house. It was in a tiny village so everyone knew everybody else’s business, but Nannie knew more lol. It was such a novelty in those days (after the war) that people would call each other up just for the hell of it. She told me about two farmers who would regularly spend a good half hour on the phone to each other with lots of deep sighing and “Ayeing” (aye means yes here).

    I personally love my mobile phone, and all the proceeding ones, but know that I was addicted in the beginning, which was a negative thing. I’ve never been a shouter though. Nowadays I’ve gone back-a-ways. I hate talking on my phone, it’s become a phobia of sorts and I wrote a blog about phone and web cams – gawd how I loathe them- (way back, can’t remember now what I called it), but because of this fear, I have never spoken to people I met online years ago and I want to, so much. The fear just gets worse. I use my phone for everything EXCEPT for calling people haha. I do internet banking, email, chat on messenger, a few of the social media nonsense things, Instagram’s my fave because I love my photography, I photograph every day with my phone – AND I blog regularly from it. My most recent blog was done entirely from my phone and this comment too…from my phone.

    I do get how you feel about it and have felt the same way at times, but I really appreciate its part in my life too. X

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your wonderfully detailed reply! And I totally ‘get’ that phones are amazing tools, especially for an artist who uploads their work as you do. I think what bothers me the most is that a person with a mobile phone is never really alone. You may be the only other PHYSICAL person in the room with them, and trying to make a connection, but you don’t know – until that person is bent over their tiny screen – that someone else just hijacked your conversation. It’s funny; I am one of those easy-going people who doesn’t get riled up about much of anything, but being shut down by an invisible telephone person REALLY makes my blood boil, every time. Wow. This just came to me like an epiphany: I guess I had better get over this; it’s definitely only going to get worse…😳 oh, and I, too, HATE talking on the phone…😳


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