Don't Touch That Phone

Here's an item that just about qualifies as an official blast from our technological past: cradle phone.

You can still get one for about fifteen bucks, an old-fashioned corded, plug-in phone otherwise known as a princess phone or a trimline. Folks born after 1990 are likely to have never used one, and cell phones are replacing the whole phone-jack paradigm even as we speak. Even oldsters like me who have been using cordless phones for at least the last 20 years consider the cradle a bona fide relic. It's simply not something widely in use.

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And for freelance journalists like me who use the phone as a primary work tool, a phone that's speaker, hands-free or mobile has become an absolute must; the idea of being tied to a phone in a single room of your house is inconceivable (and ergonomically disastrous--reporters holding the phone between ear and shoulder as they furiously typed probably produced a lot of pinched nerves. Of course corded phones are still the office mode, but fewer and fewer journalists work in offices).

Yet I have been using a cradle phone at home for the last week. Talk about old school. My ten-year-old cordless finally went kaput, and while I try and find the time to go to Target, I am wedded to the trimline that's been stashed in my closet in case of electrical power outtages. I have to confess, I've made some discoveries that border on spiritual. Being forced to sit in one place and talk--not multitask--has been strange, but illuminating. I realize that while I talk on a mobile or cell I tend to dust, wash dishes or scan the Internet, not because I need to, but because I can. Now that I can't, I don't miss any of those things; I can actually focus on the conversation at hand.

Nor do I ever know who's calling me. Minus the ubiquitous caller I.D. readout, I have to decide to pick up the phone or not when it rings. I usually do. So far I haven't regretted the fact that I can't screen; in fact, knowing that I'll to deal with whoever does call me, whether it's a solicitor or my mother, has been a relief. I'm empowering myself by leaving the knowledge of incoming calls not to me, but to a higher power. I've discovered that I like not being in total control of information. I realize technology has given me too much control, and I haven't been reacting all that well. For the last week I've had considerably less anxiety in my life, less sense of chaos. Coincidence? I don't think so.

I'll get to Target eventually. But at this point I don't feel like multitasking, or even single-tasking. It may take a while.

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user radworld. It was used under a Creative Commons LIcense.

About the Author

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in L.A., with an eye toward the city's African American community, appear weekly on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.
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Why couldn't I have one of these with an added speakerphone? I remember having fun hearing all the working sounds come from each number rotation. The experience of calling someone just seemed much richer by having that at the beginning each call. Time and everything around me would pleasantly slow down as I focused and challenged myself to get every number right at the first try of every call followed by a warm 'Hello.'

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I sometimes get wistful about old school phones too. It was exciting to have one in my room so I didn't have to stretch the cord for privacy. Calls just seemed more significant.