What it was like growing up in the 70’s and 80’s – corded, rotary and pay phones

To have privacy for my phone calls as a teenager, I had to pull the cord of the only home phone and I couldn’t even shut the door of my room as the cord was thick. You were restricted by the length of the cord. Often I would sit near the door of my room to keep it shut with my body weight leaning on it.

But looking back at this gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. At the time I was annoyed that my phone calls were policed by my father who didn’t like me on the phone for too long and wanted me to study instead. He was probably right as my friends then were pretty vapid, as many teenagers are.

I do miss hour long phone calls with my youngest aunt and oldest cousin sister though. Now I hesitate to make any calls as everyone seems busy, I don’t want to disturb them, and it’s a norm to text instead. Also my time is often taken up by my phone addiction as it is with many of us in this post Steve Jobs era.

Even earlier, back as a kid in the 70’s I had so much fun with the rotary dial of the phone. My home phone was an absolute beauty in fire engine red and I was sad when Telecoms (Singapore’s telephone company name then) replaced it with a less elegant looking beige push button.

ASMR back then was repeatedly dialing numbers just to hear that satisfying whizzing sound of the rotary dial. Such a nice sensation for the fingers too. Just relaxing.

You could also dial 1711 to get a recorded message of the exact time. That was how our clocks were set, but I did it repeatedly just for fun. All the little things we did for fun instead of watching videos on an iPad.

The exact time is now all automatically set on the iPhone. It’s also an alarm clock. No more knocking my physical alarm clock accidentally off the bed as I fumbled in the dark. Groaning as the alarm still went on shrieking from under my bed. I wonder if one day clocks will be redundant, but for now I still find them essential, especially when my phone is on the charger.

I don’t really miss pay phones, but it did add a lovely complexity and depth to our childhood. I’ll never forget queuing up at school to inform my parents of my O level results. And we needed to have enough 10 or 20 cent coins. I believe 20 cents was for 3 minutes.

No handphones also meant fixing a place and time to meet your friends and getting extremely annoyed by the perpetually late ones. Till now punctuality is a very important trait to me. It means consideration for others and just plain courtesy. Warms my heart that all the little ones in my family have this trait. They are impressively more reliable than a lot of adults.

I predict that in the future there will be no more home phones, even cordless ones, and perhaps they will be replaced by video calls on a big glass screen (or even a holographic screen like in the Star Wars movie?) where you also stream your shows and control your home devices through voice commands, including the oven. This sounds less intimate compared to a one on one phone call, but as the word becomes more globalised it is how people will be connected regardless of where you are.

I’ll still be missing the more sincere, inclusive and slower times I lived through. Somehow this era seems to make us even more individualistic and in our own worlds, with much less heart to heart communication. I miss the intimacy of the past (I absolutely hate group chats where it’s become normalised to be ignored in a room filled with people and also instead of meaningful discourse there are forwarded texts like in a Facebook feed), but I acknowledge that it’s hard to go back with all these new norms being established.

About bookjunkie

Blogging about life in Singapore & recently cancer too.
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