Rotary dial telephones

Rotary dial telephone. Photo: C. Hagemoen

I miss the old land-line, rotary dial telephones. There was something very tangible about holding the substantial handset up to your ear and dialing the number on the rotary dial.

Using the telephone was much simpler then. There was no such thing as call display, *69  or speaker phone. You picked up the handset, dialed the number (that you either remembered, or looked up in the telephone directory) and listened to the rings while you waited for someone on the other end to answer. If you got a busy signal you tried again later. If they weren’t home, you didn’t talk with to them. Simple as that.

You certainly don’t get that with a cell phone. Don’t get me wrong, I think the cell phone is very useful. It saves a lot of frustration of trying to get a hold of someone (or someone trying to get a hold of you), especially when you are out and about. But it really isn’t as fun to use as a rotary phone. In fact, other than quick calls on the run, it can really be a chore to talk to someone for longer than a couple of minutes. It is not as comfortable; not as palpable. There is something really engaging about systematically putting your finger in the hole for the corresponding number and then turning the dial. It isn’t the same when you simply push a button – besides, don’t we already push enough buttons everyday?

Another great thing about the rotary dial phone is that when you dialed only “0” you got connected directly to the telephone operator. Someone who was able to help you with your calling or information needs. The CBUT (CBC Vancouver) children’s show, “Follow Me” used young hosts to visit various businesses and industries around town. On this episode, host Sally Campbell gets a tour of the B.C. Telephone Co. Take a look back to the late 1950s to see how a long-distance telephone call was made, and what happens when you call information.

“Follow Me” – Telephone (excerpts), 1958 – YouTube.

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