Opinion

Everything old is new again, even rotary phones

The pimply-faced kid in the backwards-facing ball cap shows up to fix my laptop, taps a couple of keys, shrugs and says “It’s dead. You probably need to replace it.”

Yes. Of course. It’s almost six years old. A total fossil.

This is my fourth — or fifth? — personal computer. It’s the latest in a daisy chain of technological bewilderment and woe that stretches all the way back to an ancient clunky Commodore 64 which is the machine that first seduced me away from my old Olivetti typewriter.

The one that never broke down, never crashed, never lost a file and never once in thirty years required the ministrations of a ‘typewriter expert’.

This despite gallons of spilled coffee on its keyboard, breadcrumbs and cigar ashes in its innards, frequent manual abuse and once, being hurled right off my desk into a wall (impending deadline; writer’s block).

I never thought much about my old Olivetti when I had it but in retrospect I mourn for it like a lost love. I miss its music; the ta-pocketa peck of the keys striking the paper, the ka-ching of the bell that warned me I was nearing the end of a line; the whirr and ka-boom of the carriage as I cuffed it across to start a new line.

Oh hell. If you’re under 40 reading this I might as well explain how to harpoon a whale. You have no idea what I’m talking about.

Used to be you couldn’t find an office without at least one typewriter. Now they’ve vanished into the landfill of history, along with Eaton’s catalogues, fax machines, garter belts and buggy whips.

And public telephones. Pay phones haven’t disappeared entirely, but as an urban feature that used to be on every street corner they are now as scarce as flamingos.

That’s not a surprise given that just about everyone nowadays totes a plastic lozenge that can make calls, take calls and tell you the current humidity reading in Mogadishu.

Humans now carry more information in their breast pocket or purse than our grandparents would access in a lifetime.

The fact that a majority use it to play Angry Birds or tweet a review of our latest purchase at Tim Horton’s? The fault, Dear Brutus, is not in our stars.

Or in our BlackBerrys.

There is a brand new hotel in the city of Victoria — or rather a brand-new ‘old’ hotel — called Hotel Zed. Sixty-two rooms all retro-fitted to whisk the client right back to, oh, say 1967.

The colour scheme is sixties-psychedelic, there’s a ping pong table in the lobby along with — yes — actual typewriters that guests can use.  Each room has a bulletin board instead of a guest directory, old fashioned alarm clocks, radios you can actually see the dial on...

And telephones.

Real telephones. The clunky Bakelite ones with the curly cords and the one-ringy-dingey, two-ringy-dingey rotary dial right in the middle. You’ll find the rotary phone right by the bed in your room at the Hotel Zed.

And if you’re a little mystified by the device, not to worry — there’s a How-to  guide in the drawer. Or you could just hold your iPhone up to the phone and click. You’ll get an instruction video.

Not sure how to use a rotary phone?  Hey, there’s an app for that.

— This column appears every Tuesday in The NEWS. E-mail: arblack43@shaw.ca.

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