A video circulated a few weeks back on YouTube showing a group of young ’uns, the current generation that has technical prowess unmatched in human history when it comes to communications technology, attempting to use a rotary phone.
Needless to say, they failed. Oh, they figured out how to dial; they didn’t figure out that you had to take the receiver off the cradle first, though.
The video brought a smile to the faces of Graybeards everywhere.
Of course, if you sat any of we wise old heads down at a telegraph we’d have no idea what to do. Such as it is with communications technology; you stay up to date, or you get left behind.
I recall when Daddy learned how to use the phone. Or to be precise, how to learn a rotary phone. I imagine he knew how to use its predecessor, the crank phone.
At any rate, he didn’t come to this skill late in life because he was slow, he came to it because he’d never really had to use it before. One day it dawned on him that it would be a useful tool for his passion and avocation: Bear hunting.
I suppose prior to the phone he’d simply planned out what pass to head to in the pre-dawn hours by talking to work buddies who hunted with him or in passing conservation while waiting for Mother to emerge from the supermarket. I reckon that he’d headed off to Caney Fork one time too many when everyone else headed to the Nantahala Gorge, and set out to remedy the situation.
And learn a rotary phone he did.
He also learned a pitfall of phone service in the area: The party line.
Party lines would serve up to 10 households, which created a few obvious drawbacks. For one, the line could be tied up for hours on end; if somebody else was on, you couldn’t call. For two, there was a complete lack of privacy. Some people just loved to eavesdrop. Of course, if you were on the line, you could detect a telltale click when someone else picked up. At times you could hear muted breathing. At such times I heard tales of kids who would start lying like dogs, laying out elaborate fictitious plans to rob a bank or three over the weekend. At such times you could hear the pace of the breathing of the eavesdropper pick up.
None of this mattered to Daddy. All that mattered was that someone was In His Way toward planning a hunt, and he was not a patient man regarding such things. I don’t vividly recall him telling someone to get off the @*#* off line.
But again, I wouldn’t swear that I didn’t.
It didn’t take him long to master the rotary phone, but I do confess I enjoyed watching the process. That’s because Daddy had this fuzzy concept that a person should emerge into this world knowing certain things, like how to run a chainsaw or fix a flat, without it ever occurring to him that such things in fact had to be taught.
Well, he had to be taught how to use a phone.
I’ll confess I’m not a great adapter of new technology. My wife fought me for years over getting a cell phone, saying I needed it for safety if I had a breakdown. I told her to buy me a gun, reasoning that it would keep me safe and I could attract a wrecker with a couple of signal shots, but she finally won out.
The manual for it was thicker than the one for my car.
Daddy never got a cell phone, and often lamented about people walking around in a daze affixed on their own palm.
Daddy was on to something, I think.
Buchanan is editor of The Sylva Herald.