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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The History of Phones

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 25, 2009

As a member of the over-50 crowd, I can remember when we all had black dial phones as a regular feature of our homes.


For you young people, telephones used to be located in the physical center of the house, because you only had one.


In the early days, you picked up the receiver and a voice said, "number please," and that person would initiate the call for you.


Later, phones had a round dial mechanism on the front that allowed you to select the numbers by inserting a finger, and pulling it in a clockwise direction to select a number.


Those physically heavy telephones often sat on a "telephone shelf" in the central room of the house, or a special telephone nook that was constructed as part of the house.


My first recollection was that the phone was connected to a "party line," where several people shared access to the phone line.


Later, the number of people was reduced to just two, followed shortly by a "private line."


Long distance calls were made infrequently, as the charges were made by the length of time you were on the phone.


Many times, long distance calls brought bad news, especially if received in the middle of the night.


Will Manley is a retired librarian who has written books and articles about the "lighter side of librarianship."


A recent commentary by Manley talks about today's generation of cell phone use.


He calls cell phones, "the one-sided chat."


Manley states that cell phones are, "harmless and inert, it's when they are in the hands of human beings that they become disruptive."


He recounts the "olden days" when a telephone call made outside of the house was done in a "telephone booth," a place where telephone calls were made privately.


Our society has now changed to the point that the most private telephone calls are aired in public, to the point, as Manley states, "teetering very close to group therapy."


These chats are mildly annoying in places where people are supposed to be quiet: hospitals, golf courses, theaters, churches, and LIBRARIES.


The use of a cell phone in a library has been discussed since cell phones made their first appearance in society.


We have tried different approaches from no cell phone use to moving the cell phone call to an area away from other people.


The end result is always the same; some people don't identify that a cell phone call at full voice anywhere is unacceptable.


Now we have technology that makes phone use to be less noticeable and someone approaching the checkout desk of the library in full conversation is becoming the norm.


I have difficulty thinking of enough to say to fill the time others use on a cell phone.


I also keep my telephone conversations somewhat private, and am embarrassed to talk in full voice where others can hear.


I was in a restaurant next to a man who was discussing on a cell phone the rental of an apartment to someone.


He was talking a full voice giving every detail of the rental agreement, and when the call was completed, he then discussed whether or not to rent the apartment with the person with which he was eating.


As I departed the restaurant, I told the man to go ahead and rent it, it was okay with me.


Manley suggested that it is unnecessary to read short stories anymore, rather just listen to cell phone calls in a public place.