I don’t think that I live in denial about the state of technology and its role in our lives – I am blogging after all. (Not only that – I use the word as a verb.) So that pretty much makes me current. And yet… I endlessly romanticize archaic – not completely obsolete, but archaic – technologies like rotary dial phones and typewriters. I bought my first typewriter at a garage sale when I could barely lift it, a mere child of 8 years old. It cost one dollar, and my mother scorned the purchase as overpriced. So my affection for typewriters has been with me for a while, lingering into the advent of word processing on word processors and then word processing on computers.
Many typewriters have come and gone in my life. When I had my retail store I always made sure I had at least one for sale and many long hours were spent in helpless irritation (a state of existence for retail workers) watching people play with the typewriter. Children, especially, were fascinated and parents would have to bribe them away from that crazy machine with the alphabet on it with promises of ice cream (which, incidentally, was pretty much the only perk in having a store in a tourist town: the ratio of ice cream stores to people).
I still have what almost qualifies as a collection of typewriters, with at least three littering my basement. I also have record players and the previously mentioned rotary dial phones – the ring of which will wake you out of any 21st-century technology-induced stupor you are currently experiencing. No blip from a Lady Gaga song or the sound of Homer Simpson drooling over the prospect of a donut as your ringtone. No confusion over where to find the phone when you hear it playing an excerpt of Beethoven’s 5th from somewhere far far away in a forgotten pocket while you frantically race around the house following the sound before it stops altogether, in a frenzy to hear the latest non-news from one of your many, many friends.
No. A traditional, wire-full phone with the bell that provides the ring sitting inside the unit itself – assembled by well-paid, home-owning, God-fearing Americans in the middle of the last century – rings its clear purposeful, nothing-but-the-ringing-of-the-phone sound throughout the entire house, no matter how large the dwelling. It’s almost a meta-experience these days. Now that what we call a phone is not just a phone, but a movie theater and a photo album and a whatever you can imagine (please don’t), having an actual massive phone that functions as nothing but itself, with a ring that sounds like nothing but a phone ringing, attached to a particular physical location, provides a purity of experience that is utterly foreign to our modern existence. The ringing of my rotary-dial phone has become something of a siren call, summoning me to another time and place. And I’m all too happy to listen, to pick up the receiver and say “hello” and to stand, unable to wander, as I wait for the response.