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From Payphone to Cell Phone: Growing Up Without a Cell Phone

Abby Slutsky shares memories of growing up without a cell phone and the impact of them on her life.

Much to my family’s dismay, I am not really as attached to my phone as many others. Yes, I usually have it with me, but on the rare days it is not charged, or I forget it, I am not really freaked out by the thought of going without it.

In fact, sometimes it is a pleasure to not be at everyone’s beck and call. Yes, there could be an emergency, but really, how many emergencies have you had since you started carrying your cell phone? Have there been any true ones where your cell got you out of jam? Anyway, onward as I share my memories about phones. Growing up, I never envisioned them as a status symbol or as something I would not leave the house without.

This is a reproduction, but notice the rotary style numbers of this landline. My phones are all push button, but I seldom use anything but automatic dial now.

This is a reproduction, but notice the rotary style numbers of this landline. My phones are all push button, but I seldom use anything but automatic dial now.

Landline Telephones

Let’s start with landlines. A lot of homes still have them, so the younger generation knows they are phone lines that are connected through wires to allow you to hear a voice at the other end, Most young people do not bother with them, but many people who grew up with landline telephones still have at least one. (Mine is the line that political surveys and solicitors use. Okay, my mother calls on that line too.)

Sometimes payphones are in booths, but some are affixed to walls. Special thanks to Daria Sannikova for the use of your photo.

Sometimes payphones are in booths, but some are affixed to walls. Special thanks to Daria Sannikova for the use of your photo.

The Payphone

This is going to show my age, but I still remember when phone calls were a dime. Eventually, the price went to a quarter for a local call.

A large black or gray phone was affixed to a wall and you put coins it to make a call. (Sometimes payphones were in see-through booths that you entered.) Occasionally, you went through the operator and ‘reversed the charges’ so that the person receiving the call paid for it. If you had a long conversation, sometimes the operator would call when you were done to request more money.

Memory of a Teen Growing Up Before the Cell Phone Era

When I was a kid, I remember being at a dance that ran a little late. I must have been unable to call home to give my parents an estimated time for my arrival home. Mom called the dance, and much to my embarrassment, my name was announced over the loudspeaker. I asked my mother to please not do that again. She said "What should I do then?” At that time, the Flyers were winning their third Stanley Cup, so I told her to have Bobby Clarke paged in the future. Fortunately, it never happened again.

College Years Without a Cell Phone

During my first two years of college, there was a payphone on each floor, but not a direct line in each dorm room. If you received a call, you stood in the hallway, and the world could hear your business if they chose to listen to your call. We were actually limited to three minute calls so that everyone had an opportunity to use the phone.

Early Car Phones

According to Wikipedia, approximately four decades ago, Martin Cooper (an employee of Motorola) created the first cell phone. When I was growing up, only the very wealthy, or sometimes physicians, had phones in their vehicles.

My First Memory of a Car Phone

I still remember when I was young my grandmother came to watch my brother and me, so my parents could take a vacation to celebrate their anniversary. My parents ran very late getting home because there was a terrible accident involving an overturned oil truck. My grandmother (from a long line of worriers) was frantic.

My grandmother finally got a call from my mother who told her that traffic was not moving. The accident was so bad that some bystanders were killed when they got too close. Many people got out of their cars to try to see what was going on from afar.

Fortunately, my mom mentioned to a stranger, who was also outside his vehicle, that she would give anything for a phone. He happened to be a physician, and he let her use his car phone.

Mom talked for days about using a car phone; it was a novelty -- something she never expected to be able to do in her lifetime. It is funny because she is now very tech-savvy when it comes to her phone and would not be caught without it.

It is hard to believe the world is so different. Phones have changed our way of life, are so versatile, and almost everyone seems to have one. In fact, according to my children, they have become something of a status symbol on the dating sites. I could not imagine refusing to date someone because they did not have a fancy enough phone.

My First Cell Phone

My very first cell phone was probably about 8-10 inches long. I did not even want it because I did not want to be accessible for work, but I was pregnant at the time, and my husband insisted I purchase one. It almost exclusively stayed in my glove compartment, and I barely used it. It was not convenient and was heavy to carry; it did not fit in my pocket or purse.

A cell phone that looks similar to my current one. Special thanks for use of the photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels.

A cell phone that looks similar to my current one. Special thanks for use of the photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels.

Cell Phone Reflections

As cell phones became smaller, I gradually began using mine more. The multi-functionality of being able to text and take photos and the convenient size made it easy for my phone to slowly become a second part of me.

Although I am fine without it, I occasionally feel like I am missing something if it is not with me. It has changed my nightly routine, which now requires charging it, and I even keep a charger in my vehicle. Yet, sometimes I feel free not to have it with me.

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Personally, mine is not a status symbol. My children have far better, more expensive phones than I do. I am not sure I even know how to use all the features on the model I own. Nevertheless, I am slowly getting more phone-tech savvy.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Abby Slutsky


Abby Slutsky (author) from America on November 22, 2020:

Yes. I think it is almost unhealthy at times.

Sp Greaney from Ireland on November 22, 2020:

Very interesting article. I wouldn't miss mine if it stopped working tomorrow.

I definitely think people rely on them a lot. When you have one people always think you should be available 24/7.

Abby Slutsky (author) from America on November 21, 2020:

Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 20, 2020:

I remember the first phone my parents had was a party line. I also remember the days of payphone booths. I was slow to join the ranks of those with cell phones and do not use it often. My husband insists that I keep one for emergencies. We do also have a landline. Kids today cannot imagine being without a cell phone. I'll admit that it is a convenience, but like you, I do not spend much time with it.

Abby Slutsky (author) from America on November 20, 2020:

Thanks for sharing and reading, Yes, I remember those bills for usage. They could really add up.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on November 20, 2020:

I remember our first landline was a party line and as a girl of 10, I wanted to call someone but kept hearing the neighbor lady explaining to someone about what the doctor told her was wrong with her liver. It was strange hearing other people's conversations and having to wait your turn until the other parties were done. In the early days of the Internet, logging on meant a charge on your long distance phone service. One month my daughter had been online much more than I was aware and when the bill came it was over $900. I told her I couldn't pay it and we would have to disconnect the phone until it was paid. She learned a lesson when no one could use the phone for several months until I saved enough to pay that $900 bill. Ah, the good old days.



Abby Slutsky (author) from America on November 20, 2020:

Your buying patterns for phones are just like mine. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

Liz Westwood from UK on November 20, 2020:

This is a fascinating article. I think we grew up in the same era. We still have a landline because it is part of our broadband package and also because some relatives still ring on it. My first cell phone was soon described as a 'brick' by my kids as sizes rapidly reduced. I generally wait till my phone breaks or won't meet my needs until I replace it and then only with a moderately priced one that has been out a while. I never get a state of the art one!

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