Whenever I am ranting and raving at my iPhone because it has mysteriously changed something I understood yesterday but today I don’t, I often stop to compare it to the telephones that belonged to my father’s telephone office as I was growing up.
There is no comparison. The sole purpose of the old phones was to talk on them and to talk on the iPhone of today is just one of many functions. I only use a very small portion of what’s available on my iPhone — the phone itself, text and email messaging, my contacts, the calculator, clock, photos and camera and voice recorder. There are countless more I don’t even know about.
I only have one app — the local weather — and I use it almost daily although it predicts a lot more rain than ever makes it here. “Heavy rain is reported 1.4 mile from your location” it tells me but I get not one drop.
In my father’s telephone office, in a front room in our house, everyone had to go through the operator to talk to anyone else except the people on the same line — which might be as many as 10 — with those at the end not hearing well because so many others picked up the receiver to listen in when they heard one long and four shorts for the Kirkwoods, say.
“Joe,” a harried farmer during wheat harvest might irritably address Daddy, “tell everyone to hang up so I can hear when the combine crew will be here.”
As late as 1952, a business phone cost $2.25 a month, plus tax; a residence phone in town $1.25 and a phone on a party line $1. Users paid a fixed rate for each 3-minute long distance call. A call to the county seat cost 20 cents. A call to California quite a bit more. Part of the cost went to Southwestern Bell — whose familiar blue & white metal sign was on a pole in front of our house — and Daddy got a percentage.
Now you can call anywhere in the U.S. for free on your cell phone — but my last phone cost $549.99 and the monthly service is $77.29. I still have a land phone for which I pay $10.35 a month for long distance which I have not used for years and $78.68 a month for what little local use I have —mostly saying no to unwanted callers. That’s the best I can interpret the bill, anyway, which may or may not be correct.
I love to be able to talk to my family whenever I want to — if they haven’t lost, either temporarily or permanently — their phone. But if we believe reports we read, there are a lot more than 10 people who listen in to everything we say and record who we say it to. Which is a lot more ominous than the 10 people on their big wooden wall phones on one of Daddy’s party lines.
Of course, there is no comparison between today’s smart phones and yesterday’s old-fashioned ones. But one thing is indisputable — you never dropped an old-timey phone in the pot. You never lost it.
Mary McClure lives in Lawton and writes a weekly column for The Lawton Constitution.