Past and Present by Debra H. Goldstein

Past and Present by Debra H. Goldstein

Do you remember when telephones rang? When rotary dialed objects sat on a table or hung on a wall made a ring sound? Was it that long ago before we relied on phones that fit in our purses or pockets and have individualized ringtones?

I didn’t think it was.

Or at least I didn’t think it was until I recently read two articles. The first one, in last week’s TV Guide, was a story about the television show, Young Sheldon. The second, an article dated February 16, 2018, commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the first 9-1-1 call.

According to the showrunners, because Young Sheldon is set in 1989, the set and props must be appropriate to the time. This has caused some comical problems with the show’s nine-year-old star, Ian Armitage. The most recent problem occurred when the script required Ian to make a telephone call. The prop master handed him a rotary phone and he stared at it. He had never seen one and didn’t know how it worked. After he was shown how to dial the phone, taping began. Moments later, the director called “Cut.” Ian didn’t know that in 1989 only seven digits or rotations were needed to dial a phone number.

The second article recounted how on February 16, 1968, at two p.m., the first 9-1-1 call in the United States was made in Haleyville, Alabama. Haleyville’s state Representative Rankin Fite placed the call from Mayor James Whitt’s office to the Haleyville police station where U.S. Representative Tom Bevill answered it on a red telephone given to the city by the Alabama Telephone Company.

I can’t remember a time there wasn’t 9-1-1, but I can remember rotary phones, manual and then electric typewriters, main frame computers, the first Mac, and the New York World’s Fair’s G.E. Exhibit of what the future would bring. FYI, all of the things demonstrated at that exhibit have come to be and, things that existed, like the 1989 rotary phone or the red phone are now in the Smithsonian.

Tell me, what are you surprised to hear nine-year-olds like Ian have never seen – and what do you miss?


6 thoughts on “Past and Present by Debra H. Goldstein”

  1. Debra: Walking backward is fun, but going forward is fantastic. When we were young, technology moved at a slower pace. Maybe not, but that’s how it appeared to me and technology was very expensive. We’re talking thousands at a time when the time value of money was more than it is today. Computers have become a commodity item.

    I love rolling over in the morning and asking Alexa about the time and weather. Today is wonderful. I am looking forward to the next great invention. Dial phones were not a big deal. Party lines, now we’re talking!

  2. Susan Koretzky

    Very funny — I agree! We still have a rotary phone — saved it to show our grandchildren 🙂
    My favorite memory is saying “Tremont” — when I was growing up, my phone number was Tremont 13701 — that later became TR 13701 — even later, it became 871-3701 — now, it would be 205-871-3701!
    Susan Koretzky

    1. It seems like a lifetime ago when our phone numbers were so simple and we never worried about the area codes. We also went through operators on the long distance calls that were made collect.

  3. Unless Ian took especial attention during museum visits, there is no reason for him to know about rotary dial phones. But it got me to thinking about what would happen after he made his call in 1959 instead of 1989 and encountered the concept of “party lines.”

    He’d assume he’d been hacked or the government was listening in on his calls, not realizing that he shared the copper line with other people.

    At my grandparents, all calls went through the operator, who would signal that the call was for you by creating a number of short and long rings. I remember sitting at the dinner table one time when the phone rang and all conversation stopped as everyone counted the longs and shorts. “Oh that’s for the [some family’s name],” my grandfather declared. “I wonder who’s calling them at this hour.”

    Times have indeed changed.

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