Reeder: Nostalgic for rotary phone, simpler time

SPRINGFIELD – I bought a “new” phone the other day.

My 6-year-old, Anna, gave it a perplexed look.

“Where’s the buttons, Daddy?”

“There isn’t any, dear. It’s what’s called a rotary phone.”

She gave it another skeptical look and walked away. Yes, when I dial, I actually dial.

An hour or so later when my wife got home from work, she, too, gave it a bewildered look and said, “Why did you install that old thing? It doesn’t even have caller ID. How will we know whether to answer the phone or not?”

Folks, it’s not about nostalgia. Sometimes, I think I just need a break from technology.

Growing up, all the phones in our house had dials.

The idea of push button technology was in its infancy. No one ever got stuck in voice mail hell.  

I remember watching a news program back in the ’70s where the reporter noted that someday people might have phones small enough to carry in their pockets – that weren’t connected to wires.

My father just shook his head and said, “I wouldn’t want to have a phone where I could be called anytime, anywhere.”

Flash forward 40 years, and now he carries a cellphone with him wherever he goes.

I’m the same way. Electronics seem to be taking over my life.

My kids make bookmarks at school, but I have no way to use them with my Kindle. I bicycle 17 miles daily, but not through the country roads of Sangamon County. Instead, I’m on a stationary bike at a gym, peering at movies on my iPad.

And I have a phone in my pocket with an app for just about everything but curing cancer.

But, gosh, it’s hard to escape the constant stream of communication. Anyone can reach me anytime. Facebook posts, tweets, emails and phone calls pour in constantly.

And my 8-year-old, Grace, loves to play games on the device.

When I was a kid, I was told a phone was nothing to play with.

Today, they are a source of entertainment.

When I walk into a restaurant, I see faces young and old enthralled with whatever is on that tiny screen. Don’t people talk to one another face-to-face anymore?

Installing a dial phone won’t make those frustrations go away, of course.

But it does remind me of a simpler time when it was possible to hang up on technology – without pushing a button.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and a journalist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at

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