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By Pam Burke 

Singin' the telephone blues


Modern, sleek, stylish, cordless telephones and cellphones are a huge disappointment.

Not that I want to go back to the old wooden box mounted on the wall that you "dialed" by ringing up the operator who connected you to the party to whom you were calling. That wasn't very handy, besides those were all party lines and that's all I need is everybody in the neighborhood listening in on my juicy conversations, confirming their every suspicion that I am both dorky and vapid.

Pam Burke

I don't really want to go back to the old rotary dial jobber either, though those were sturdy phones and handy as a self-defense weapon should the need arise, say, in a little dispute between siblings.

But they wouldn't work with the modern phone systems because they dial by sending pulses rather than touch-tones from the modern keypad. So if you were trying to dial out with one of those babies it'd go click-click, click-click-click-click-click-click, click-click-click-click-click, ... well, you get the idea.

The phone system, though, would be all, like, "Dude, I don't understand clicky language. You're in the 21st century gimme this in beeps."


"I don't know what you want. Beep me. Y'know, bee-boo-beep, bee-bah-beep-beep."


"Argh! This phone is a menace! Does anyone here speak dead phone languages?"

Besides, those phones also posed a health hazard that could lead to divorce. The finger stop was made from a hook-shaped piece of sturdy, flat metal that could, say, pierce your mother's foot during a dinner party when she accidentally stepped on the phone your dad set on the floor. And the incident could be brought up during divorce proceedings several years later as rhetorical evidence of your dad's callousness because he laughed at seeing a phone attached to your mother's foot.

In Dad's defense, my mother was hopping around with the phone clanging and swinging wildly from the bottom of her foot.

And it kind of illustrates one of my points. After Dad stopped laughing and pulled the phone out of my mother's foot, the phone still worked. It could take that kind of abuse.

Also, if Dad hadn't been able to stop the blood flow, he could've cradled that handset between his ear and shoulder and talked to the EMT dispatcher while using both hands to apply pressure to my mother's wound. Modern cordless phones and cellphones just don't meet those usage standards.

You step on them, they break. You sit on them, they randomly butt-dial someone.

You cannot cradle them easily between your ear and shoulder. My one-armed husband commented one day that cellphones are the great equalizer — everyone is one-armed shopping, driving, eating, whatever, when they're holding a cellphone up to their ear. Welcome to his world of inconvenience.

Yes, at least the hands-free problem could be fixed with a headset or ear piece device, but that doesn't solve my last big gripe: How do you express your complete disgust and anger on a phone you can't slam with a satisfying degree of force and noise.

Those rotary phones were awesome tools for self-expression.

If, say, you told the salesman on the other end of the phone line (who interrupted your nap) not to call back and that you're on the national no-call list, and he said, "So how's that working for ya?" you didn't have to ineffectually push the end-call button. You could roundhouse that handset and slam it into its cradle with an ear numbing clatter. No harm, no foul, no discernible damage to the phone.

As a bonus gesture, those old phones had actual bells in them for ringers, so if you slammed the handset down correctly — hitting the side of the phone before the cradle — you could add a little bell-ringing insult to the slamming ear injury. That is a satisfying gesture.

I suggest that the next generation of cordless and cellphones have a new feature. Along with the end-call button, they include an end-call-with-a-vengeance button. When you push on this button, it starts in with the clatter and bell clanging, which increases in volume the longer you hold it, and doesn't actually hang up until you release the button. Ah, what a beautiful noise.

It would also reduce the amount of duct tape I use repairing my cordless phone.

(Plus, it would cut down on my swearing at http://viewnorth40.wordpress.com.)


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