Brock: Do you remember bag phones and phone booths?
Technology has greatly improved our lives. Still, there are some technologies worth celebrating and others that, looking back, you think if I knew then what you know … maybe not so much.
Recently while visiting a museum, I came across a phone booth and a bag phone on display. There is nothing that ages a person quite like seeing a technology in a museum that you grew up using and is now long gone, and another that was new technology you used decades ago.
Years ago, I received my first bag phone. It was the precursor to cellphones to those of you under 30.
I felt a little like James Bond being able to communicate to others from my car though. I didn’t understand the technology. (I still don’t.)
I was the circulation director at a newspaper in South Dakota and had a geographical area to cover that basically was the entire state.
This new bag phone plugged into the cigarette lighter (Believe it or not, back then every automobile came equipped with one and even had an ashtray.) and, in theory, you would always be able to call and receive calls from the home office or your loved ones.
My bag phone was slightly smaller and weighed a little less than my bowling bag and had a handy strap to sling over my shoulder when it wasn’t filling up the middle seat of my pickup truck.
I thought the phone would be a Godsend to use in case of emergencies while driving in rural South Dakota. Occasionally, it actually was — if you happened to be close enough to one of the sparse cell towers — but more often than not, you found yourself just out of range.
Bag phones, when not plugged in, had a limited battery charge and limited minutes to use and once you got too far from home, there could be roaming charges from connecting to an out-of-your-service-area tower.
No one would have ever thought of having a casual conversation. It was meant for business and to operate it, you actually needed to pull over to receive a call. Still, when in range of a tower, it was a better option than searching for an Alpena, S.D., payphone at 3 a.m.
Most every little town had a payphone but required you keep an ashtray full of change to make a call. Every phone booth had a phone book with every phone number in the area you would use if that page hadn’t been ripped out.
These days, my iPhone allows me to keep connected to all the people I know. I can search the web, call, send text or email messages and pictures, files or videos to everyone at anytime and anyplace in the world.
My first antique bag phone was the beginning of the end of payphones and the start of always being available — at every minute — to everyone who has your phone number or email.
Sometimes though, when I’m driving on a quiet stretch of road and I receive a call or a text, I wonder if keeping an ashtray full of change was really that big of a problem?
Brock is the publisher of The Dickinson Press. Email him at email@example.com or call him (at his office) at 701-456-1201.