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Whittling Away: Telephones


By Dick Brooks

For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a man named Dick Brooks.

Telephones are not my favorite thing.

Not being one to indulge in frivolous chit chat much, the telephone then becomes a way to get bad news or as a confirmer of appointments, most of which I’d rather not go to anyway. 

This dislike may date all the way back to childhood when on several occasions I tried unsuccessfully to make a communication link out to two tomato soup cans and a length of white string. 

I do admit to having a fascination with Dick Tracy’s Wrist Radio. I thought it would be great to be able to communicate with home base at will. Now that I have a cellphone, I’m not so sure that’s such a good thing and I sometimes have trouble remembering just what the advantages I imagined were. 

Back in simpler times, telephones were easier to avoid. Most were black and weighed in the neighborhood of 10 pounds, so not very portable. They lived at home and most houses had but one.

They were a more pleasant appliance then, one picked up the receiver and was greeted by a pleasant voice belonging to a real human who said, “Number please.” You gave her the number, she connected you, no dialing or button pushing involved, and they think today’s phones are labor-saving devices. 

We lived in the country, country folks had party lines. These were early mass communication systems. The phone rang, you waited to hear if it was one ring, two rings, three rings or a series of four rings. It really didn’t matter how many rings there were, everybody picked up the phone but only the party whose ring it was talked, the rest put their hand over the mouthpiece and listened. News traveled quickly.

There were pay phones in phone booths, little houses that could be found usually on street corners or in places of business. These were used on the rare occasion when a phone call needed to be made outside of your home or when you were at work. They were never used much but every mother in town made sure that if you were going out for the evening, you had money to make a phone call in case of an emergency. I remember mothers of my infrequent dates handing them bags of coins as they eyed me suspiciously.

With the telephones of today, you’re never out of touch, even if you want to be.

Phones e-mail, take pictures, send pictures, play music, text messages near and far, and make thousands of annoying sounds when they ring. I wish they would ring; a telephone should ring. They buzz, vibrate, play snippets of music I don’t like. They call them ring tones, but they don’t ring. 

A state highway truck stopped in front of the house this morning and the driver got out and stood watching the beautiful red sunrise, pulled out his phone and took a picture of it. This was one of the best uses for a cellphone I’ve seen lately. I hope he shares it with a loved one.

I have a cellphone and I think I function well with it. I leave it turned off until the rare occasion comes up when I need to make a call. 

The folks that really annoy me are the ones who walk around the market with those Star Wars hearing aids and microphones sticking out of their ears. 

They look like they’re talking to themselves and it makes me nervous. Does anyone need to be that communicative? Have they never heard of a Post It Note to write the grocery list on? Are they talking to a significant other who has their head in the fridge at home placing an order on their phone? I hope not.

Thought for the week — If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled?

Until next week, may you and yours be happy and well.

Reach columnist Dick Brooks at

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