Fifteen years ago this month, the first version of one of my constant companions — my beloved iPhone — was born. And though now I can’t imagine life without my iPhone, I can certainly remember those years pre-smartphone when phones were used solely for verbal communication!
Even though 19th and 20th century era phones couldn’t take photos, tally your daily number of steps, or provide instantaneous information about anything your heart desires, they were communication game-changers in their time. And in some cases, especially in the mid-century modern times, they were actually part of the home décor. Case in point: the coveted Princess phone (complete with the convenient light up dial). This stylish oval shaped phone — perfect for second phone lines (the ultimate luxury!) in bedrooms — was actually initially produced in Indiana. Princess phones came in a number of appealing colors, including — my favorite — the pastel pink version popularized Sally Field’s 1960s TV show “Gidget.”
Though phones from “the day” couldn’t travel in your purse or pocket, they were portable in their own way. You could pick up the phone itself and move it to a comfortable spot of your choice or, if the cord was long enough, cradle the receiver on your shoulder and converse while lounging on the sofa or bed. There were wall-mounted phones in some homes which provided a phone-booth-like aesthetic. A long-enough cord was a must here so you didn’t have to remain standing during long conversations.
While another 1960s show, “Get Smart,” introduced a spy phone cleverly hidden in a shoe (which, of course, only existed then in sitcom reality), in the 1970s and ‘80s, novelty phone styles began appearing en masse. They included the mod doughnut version, the retro candlestick style, the figurine Snoopy or Mickey Mouse phone (for the kid in all of us), and the phone shaped like giant red lips. In my pre-cordless phone days in the early ‘90s, I used a clunky corded phone with touch keys on the receiver which looked ironically similar to the earliest mobile phones I’d use just a few years later.
Although landline phones are still being used, especially in workplaces, the last 15 years have shown us that not only is technology advancing and changing but communication styles are evolving too. Though phones were initially used to “connect” people no matter where they were, today’s phones are actually more a multipurpose device than a conversational tool. In fact, if lovable alien ET were visiting us today he would probably not be phoning home. He’d just send a text of emojis.
EMILY SCHILLING is editor of Indiana Connection