I can still recall my home phone number for the house that I lived in as a child in the 50s and 60s. It was Empire 52994 or 365-2994. Empire replaced the first two digits in what would later become the standard seven digit phone number that we use today for local calls. Essentially it was a mnemonic device to help people remember their phone numbers in an era when folks were just learning to direct dial their calls without having to go through an operator. EM or Empire represented the local exchange or hub for our area. As the use of personal/home phones grew exponentially, so too did the need for more available numbers in each area. And that was well before the addition and rapid growth of mobile or cell phones. It wasn’t long before you had to remember not only your seven digit phone number but your area code as well. And every time you moved or got a new job, there was a new telephone number to remember. Fast forward to today when cell phones allow you to keep your phone number (and even your area code) regardless of how often you move or change phones. And this is just the tip of the iceberg in how much our phones and the way we use them have changed over the course of my lifetime.
I was in my thirties the first time I ever saw a mobile phone. It bore little resemblance to the ubiquitous cell phone that everyone carries with them these days. It was the size of a large brick and it came with an equally large charging cradle located in the trunk of one of the administrative staff vehicles at the Post Office where I worked. We were sternly warned that it was to be used only in case of an earthquake or other emergency. This was due at least in part to the fact that it required a 10 hour charge to produce just 35 minutes of use and it cost nearly $10,000 in today’s dollars. It turned out to be more of a novelty than a tool as the evolution of hand-held mobile devices and cell phones progressed rapidly shortly thereafter.
Although cell phones became widely available and affordable for the general public in the mid 1990s, I did not purchase my first cell phone until 2002 and even then it was considered an emergency phone for my daughter who was a junior in high school. It was strictly a phone, no games, apps, camera or internet, just a phone she could use to call for help. I bought a second phone for myself so she could get a hold of me if I was not home or out of my office. That was also the year our son went away to college at the Coast Guard Academy in CT, clear across the country, but they did not allow the cadets to have cell phones until their senior year! I accidentally washed my cell phone in a load of laundry the evening prior flying back east to visit him and had to make a quick trip to the mall to replace it so that our daughter would be able to stay touch while we were away. How quickly something I didn’t think I needed had become a necessity.
I have purchased three new phones since the laundry incident replacement and and still have all of them save for the one I dropped into the lake from our dock about five years ago. It was 2008 when I purchased my first iPhone and was able to do more than just make calls. At $299 for 16GB of memory, it seemed like an extravagant purchase, but it didn’t take long to become enamoured with all it’s bells and whistles, especially it’s connectivity with our iMac. That’s the phone I lost in the lake. I replaced it with an iPhone 5 which I used happily for 5 years before upgrading to the iPhone 8 a year ago. Since my old phone was still is good condition, I talked my husband into making it his “emergency” phone. Believe it or not it is the first cell phone he has ever owned. Who knows, maybe he will someday he will see the phone as more than just “in case of an emergency” and start keeping it on his person …or not