In the dustbin of our cultural history

I had forgotten about that little feature. The call wouldn’t go to “voice mail” and there was no indication you had missed a call. Calling someone and repeatedly getting a busy signal was just something we had to live with.

The break-up of AT&T brought private ownership of phones by my childhood in the '80s. Our family was most definitely not rich but we had a second phone in the basement by the laundry room as Dewey_Finn mentioned. Both phones were touchtone wall phones, and I recall an extra charge ($1 or so per month?) for touchtone service that was gone before I went to college in the late '80s.

In the 1970s, my mother worked for Western Electric in the local office. At some point in my childhood I wanted a toy phone but not a toy. So she was able to wheedle the guys in the back to give us an actual phone but we had to promise not to ever connect it to the network and they disabled the ringer in it. Eventually we did connect the phone. And once they allowed you to own extension phones, they had ones everywhere in the house, including the bathroom. There was a time when the phones didn’t even ring properly because they were just pulling more voltage than the line could supply.

Not exactly.

You could have multiple phones on one number = one “line”. That cost a little extra per month. Like a couple of bucks per phone.

Or you could have additional phone(s) on a second number = second “line”. That cost significantly more. Like $20 or more. At which point you could have multiple simultaneous conversations, one on each line.

It became common in the early 1970s among comfortable suburbanites to spring for a second line for the tween/teen kids to use. That stopped the parents from running around the house only to serve as an answering machine for their phone-addicted teens.

At which point it became common to see white pages listings like this:

Smith, John & Mary … … … … 555-1234
   123 Main St., Anytown
        Teen phone … … … … … 555-4567

More importantly, it prevented the main line from being tied up.

Speaking of phones: when I was in college, each room had a phone. Not each person - each room. So if you were in a two, or three (or heaven-forbid, a four-person room), there was one phone for all of you. At the end of each month, the bill came, and the roommates got the fun of figuring out who made which calls. Since producing the bill took time, a few days before the end of the year, you could no longer use the phone for non-local calls (since you’d be gone before they could get you the bill)

Our college dorms had no phones. (1979-1983) Not in the rooms and not in the dorm common areas. We had to go to a different building and use a pay phone. It was a pain, but in retrospect, it was nice to be completely unreachable.

A couple of years ago my nephew, who was 13 or 14 at the time, had to borrow my phone to make a call. A moment later he handed it back to me, saying “uncle L, I think I broke your phone! I’m so sorry!” I put the phone to my ear and yep, busy signal. I let my son (same age) and my other son (10yo) listen. Neither knew what the sound meant.

So I think busy signals have mostly gone the way of the dodo as well.

My sister got her own line when she was a teenager. Didn’t last long.

Mostly, yes. I still call my parents on their land line (in part because, while my 87-year-old dad does have a mobile phone, they don’t have great reception in their house), and they don’t have call waiting or voicemail on the land line. So, sometimes, when I call them, I do get a busy signal; it’s probably the only busy signal I’ve heard in years.

I want to point out that landlines still serve useful purposes:

Better 911 reaction time, they come straight to your address rather than a blue dot on a map- in a a area with twisty little streets, that can add 15 minutes to arrival time.

When there is a disaster, the cell towers often go ‘down’ ie so many calls they cant take any more.

You now have a valid # to give people and businesses you dont want calling you on your cell.

If you get your landline from some companies you can add a lot of features, including blocking all incoming calls, or add several spam blockers to get rid of 90% of spam callers.

Depends on the parents.

We had a large house, a bunch of kids, one main phone, and very few calls for the 'rents. So our teen-phone was entirely about it being our responsibility to run across the house to answer that one, not about keeping the main phone free for calls that almost never came.

Why did it not last long? Sounds like a good story you’re assuming we can intuit.

I’ve got the opposite problem.

My aged MIL has a VOIP phone bundle with her cable TV and internet. Which phone line comes with call waiting and voicemail. Neither of which she can operate, and neither of which I can get the supplier to turn off. You can’t not have call waiting & voicemail with them.

So I recorded the “greeting” on her voicemail: it’s me snarling an instruction to not leave a message because it’ll never be listened to. Which doesn’t stop people (and especially robo-callers) from doing just that.

Once a month I clean out that voicemail bilge just to grab the two or three legit calls from doctors’ offices or whatever. Idjits!

I can’t even just wait for it to fill up like VM did 10+ years ago; the capacity is thousands of messages, not just 10 or 20 like the Golden Olden Dayes of, say, 2005.

I wish like heck I could surprise these folks with a good old fashioned busy signal.

When I was a freshman in college, I lived in a rooming house with about 10 students. We had one phone, and it was a pay phone on the wall. I remember always calling my parents “collect”. That’s another thing kids today don’t get.

Find a good recording of a busy signal and use that – just the busy signal audio – as your “greeting.”

Speaking of old telephone stuff, long distance isn’t really a thing anymore, neither is different rates for different times of day.

Lordy, I can empathize. My mother-in-law is 80; she ditched her land line when she moved into her current townhouse seven or eight years ago, largely because she is cheap, and she decided that her off-brand cell phone would be sufficient.

Sounds reasonable, right? Alas:

  • She lives in a distant suburb of Chicago, and her off-brand cell phone struggles to get a consistent signal.
  • She never remembers to plug in and recharge the thing, so it is very commonly out of power (meaning that all calls roll to her voicemail).
  • Half the time, she can’t remember how to look to see if she has a voicemail message, nor can she remember how to listen to said message.

So, at least half the time that my wife calls her mother, she can’t get hold of her. Leaving a message is a dicey proposition, since there’s no guarantee that my MIL will ever hear it. And, then, a day later, she’ll call my wife, and be all cranky that my wife had not tried to call her. :stuck_out_tongue:

I have, literally, begged her to get a landline again. She just laughs, “it’s not really that bad of a problem.” No, really, it is that bad of a problem.

Oh yes, I was talking about the 50’s and 60’s.

That’s what I meant by an extension line. I don’t know what it cost, but I do know the cost wasn’t considered trivial in the 50’s and early 60’s in my area, because almost nobody did this. Either that, or else it simply wasn’t considered necessary.

Now that is something I definitely don’t miss about old technology. I spent quite a few years, long after college, living in shared houses, even at some points when I owned the houses; including when I had interns on the farm. Not only was there friction about how long people tied up the line, and complaints if a household member knew somebody who commonly called them after people had gone to bed (and then didn’t wake up and answer, leaving it to ring until somebody else staggered out of bed to get it): but every month a phone bill would come with a long list of “long-distance” numbers (everything further than the next village over was long-distance.) And we, or at some points mostly I, would have to go through the bill and assign numbers and charges to people – and sometimes more than one person might have called the same number, and sometimes there were numbers nobody remembered, or admitted to remembering, having called at all. We kept a notebook by the phone and anybody calling long distance was supposed to write down the number, their name, and the date; but that didn’t always happen.

And sometimes somebody had moved out, without leaving money for the bill.

Yes, yes, yes. Nobody’s expected to be unreachable now. There are advantages to that in some ways; but a whole lot of disadvantage in others.

Depends on who you know. I know some people (mostly, by this point, Old-Order Mennonites, but a few others) who use neither voice mail nor answering machines, and you do indeed get a busy signal. Many of them, however, do seem to have and use Caller ID, and they’ll often call you back.

Why Caller ID but not voicemail I have no idea. I might ask sometime.

As to the last – just make sure they’re not intending to text you.

But yes, I’m a belt and suspenders sort of person. Sometimes the landline works when cell phones are down. Sometimes the cell phone works when the landline is down. And my landline’s bundled with my ISP, anyway. It’s terrible service; but so is any other service I could get from here.

I’m not CalMeacham; but I’m going to take a wild guess that it had to do with the phone bill.

Yes, I remember being puzzled at first when I started getting long distance calls at all hours. Didn’t these people know it would be cheaper to wait till later? Didn’t they care?

The discount-after-5PM-and-bigger-discount-after-11 system apparently went away sooner in some areas than in others. (The annoying late night phone calls for the housemate who wasn’t the one woken by the phone were generally people who wanted to get the after–11 rate.)

Yeah! I can certainly empathize right back. :wink:

In addition to the voicemail aged MIL can’t use, she has a physical answering machine she can use. On the rare occasions, like about weekly, that it occurs to her to look at it and see the blinky lights and the bright display counting the recorded messages. So leaving a message there is close to useless too, certainly for anything real-time. And yes, we sometimes get chastised for not calling, despite leaving 3 or 4 calls on her answering machine. At least she’s god natured about it.

Actually, the stupid call waiting and voicemail mess I described above is useful in a perverse way: If I call her and it forwards to my snarling voicemail I know she’s talking on the phone and so still alive. I’m doubly sure if I call back 30 minutes later and it goes to the answering machine. Somebody had to be there and conscious to hang up that phone in the interim.

She’s been asking for a simple cellphone for a few months now. She likes to drive her scooter around the grounds at the old farts’ home and wants the phone so she can call for help if she gets stuck in the grass or it runs out of juice. Sounds sensible enough. The only problem is she’ll either leave it plugged in at home or leave it forgotten in a pocket on her scooter for weeks at a time. In either case it’s 99.9% likely it won’t be functional where she is when she needs it.

An emergency call pendant you suggest? Hah! Foolish man, those are for senile old people; I’m only 95, unable to walk, and forgetful. Not like those other old people who need pendants!

Bless her indestructible heart and irrepressible spirit. But once in awhile it’s more tragi-comic than comedic.

We got one of those for my mother, but she would forget she had it. One night she fell down at 2 AM and spent the next two hours banging on the floor of her bedroom until she managed to wake up the downstairs tenant.

My siblings started to take turns spending the night at her house after that.

My parents got one for my Grandpa- he did the opposite, and did stuff like pressing it at 3am because he couldn’t find the pants he wanted to wear tomorrow… Of course, the time he got stuck in the bath fr several hours, he’d obviously left it out of reach :roll_eyes:

The more recent phone argument consigned to the dustbin is the ‘get off the internet, I need to make a call’ version I grew up with.