After protracted negotiations, one of my sons installed a landline for his daughters.
The girls wanted to gab with their friends, but the parents cringed at the idea of handing cell phones to the 9-year-old twins and their 5-year-old sister. Hence, the compromise: a sleek red-and-black cordless that looks like it’s straight out of a Star Trek episode.
"I would’ve killed to have a phone like this at their age," my son told me. (We got him his first cellphone when he went off to college, and it was a big, big, BIG deal.)
The girls, though, they weren’t impressed. The landline is a family first, but in this mobile world, even a shiny old tech gadget is … well, meh.
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A landline can’t FaceTime. A landline doesn’t deliver a quick search on Safari. A landline doesn’t report the weather or play songs or (gasp!) support any apps. No Princess, no Minion Rush, no Nail Art Salon. Not even Snapchat, which is a favorite of theirs when they commandeer my phone. There’s no swiping a screen, only the hard work of pressing firmly on the number buttons. In short, a landline has none of the appeal of a smartphone.
This reminds me of a hilarious YouTube video I once saw of children trying to figure out how to use a rotary phone. If you’re of a certain age — say, over 30 — few things will make you feel as old and irrelevant as watching that clip. I not only remember those old-fashioned dial phones, but I can also clearly recall that, at some point in my childhood, we had a party line at home. And I don’t mean a direct connection to some neighborhood shindig, either.
On a recent trip north, The Hubby and I were surprised to spot a pay phone in a little town in Canada. Neither of us had seen one of those booths in years, so like good tourists, we posed in front of it and texted the image to our children. Imagine that: a real phone booth! With a coin slot! With a dial tone! With possible busy signals! With charges for a long-distance call!
Even as technology drags me forward into a brave, new world, I’ve concluded that old gadgets can maintain both their charm and usefulness. We simply have to approach them without prejudices or preconceptions.
Case in point: Several months ago, I embarked on a home office-organization binge which resulted in the unearthing of several floppy disks. I can’t remember the last time I had a computer that could read one of those, so why I bothered to keep them is a mystery. Before I tossed them out, however, my granddaughters had a fun time using them as coasters — exactly the kind of re-purposing our economy needs.
I own an ancient Underwood typewriter. It’s in bad shape, but I display it in the living room as a talisman of my beginnings as a writer. Children who visit are mesmerized by it. They click and clack on the keys, little upturned faces a landscape of delight. And when the typewriter dings as it gets to the end of a line, their eyes light up with wonder: proof that you don’t need a screen when you’ve got a strange contraption that makes funny noises.
It’s not just old typewriters and archaic phones that are elbowing their way back. I’ve read that Polaroid instant cameras and LP records are becoming popular. This is good news for us vintage baby boomers. Outdated apparently doesn’t mean obsolete anymore.