Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Posts Tagged ‘Telephone

Let’s talk about talking…

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I feel compelled to respond to a comment that Cookie herself (Aunt Adrienne) posted on the last entry. She noted, importantly, that Sylvia wrote that she would call the doctor from the drug store. The note itself was replacing what would today be a telephone call. (Or a tweet, facebook post, text, BBM, etc… No comment.)

Today, after a number of years together, my phone went kaput. It had been acting up for a few months now and it finally received it’s last message and shut off, never to turn on again. I took it to the dreaded Verizon store to see if I could replace the battery. Instead, I was told that “old reliable” was beyond repair.

This has a point, and I’m getting to it. As my dad made fun of me for anguishing over whether or not I should take the plunge and get a smartphone, with internet access and all, I thought about Sylvia’s note. While I couldn’t fathom leaving the store and being phone-less for a night, she had to accept that her cheerfully crafted note would come into her husband’s hand soon enough and that he would promptly meet her at the hospital. I think that, as we read these letters, the patience then required in communication will put our expectation of instant communication into perspective.

Before World War II most Americans did not have private telephone lines. Instead, party lines connected a number of residents to one service. What I find most interesting about party lines was the lack of privacy that the phone provided.

“To make telephones more affordable to working-class families, Bell Telephone and other companies began offering party lines in 1891. Within a few decades more than 60% of Bell’s residential customers shared a telephone line.” (When Eavesdropping Meant That You Had Some Nosy Neighbors. Cynthia Crossen. Wall Street Journal. Eastern edition. New York, N.Y.: Jun 5, 2006. pg. B.1)

If one person was on the phone, someone else could easily pick up another phone and listen or join in. Just imagine the neighborhood gossip! In the 1950s it became much more common for middle class households to have their own private lines.  I see this as reflecting the expanding desire for privatization and individualism in the post-war era. But beware, in the McCarthy era private lines still did not guarantee privacy.

Written by Molly

April 6, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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