The Dumb Phones We Had Before Smart Phones: Busy Signals and Kinky Cords

By | December 13, 2017

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Left: Joan Collins on the set of film 'Alfie Darling,' October 1974. (Photo by Kent Gavin/Mirrorpix/Getty Images) Right: A Nazi answers a very large old phone in 'Top Secret!' (1984). Source: IMDB

Smart phones (or cell phones, or mobile phones) are a vast improvement over yesterday's telephones, with their clunky handsets, spiral cords, rotary dials, and busy signals. But that's history for you -- the old dumb phones were once the cutting edge of technology. It was once amazing to think that one could dial a number and talk to a person far away over a wire. Now that sounds like a 7th grade science project. Cell phones are such an everyday and indispensable part of our lives that we have to remind ourselves of the routines or hassles of phoning back in the day.

Your Fingers Did The Walking

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To make sure we always had our most important phone numbers at hand, there was a clever invention called a "phone book." This was a tome, sometimes a few inches thick, listing the phone numbers of everyone in an area. The white pages of the phone book contained residential numbers, while the yellow pages were for businesses. Businesses could also buy advertisements in the yellow pages -- and if you lived in a city your white pages and yellow pages might be two separate books. The slogan for the Yellow Pages was "let your fingers do the walking" -- because you could call shops or establishments to ask about their hours or products, rather than go there in person. This was a real innovation and time-saver.