A few weeks ago I read a collection of essays by Jonathan Franzen titled “How to be Alone,” which cover a variety of topics from the ludicrousness of the Chicago postal system to the declining popularity of serious fiction. As he writes in the introduction, each essay touches in some way on, “the problem of preserving individuality and complexity in a noisy and distracting mass culture: the question of how to be alone.” In the essay “Scavenging” I believed I had found a kindred spirit, someone who shared my love of the obsolete and, like me, was loathe to accept upgrades or improvements when the current technology is serving perfectly well.
Why purchase a touch tone cordless phone (or cell phone, for that matter) when the rotary model is still functioning? My family had a 20 foot cord on our old rotary wall phone for years to allow the two adolescents in the household some modicum of privacy when talking to friends. The cord pooled on the floor below the phone and knocked items of the adjacent desk when we stretched it too far. There was something satisfactory about dialing a zero and waiting for the dial to spin all the way back around. I suppose at the time, these features were more of an annoyance than anything else, but now they just seem quaint and nostalgic. Even my mom has done away with the rotary phone (most automated recordings have ceased to give the option for rotary dialers to wait on the line for assistance), as have I, but I think I’ll always harbor an impulse to move backwards instead of forwards.