A few old-timers aren’t that impressed. Raymond turned most of the farming over to his son years ago, and he knows that digital applications are part of the operation now, but he contends that they had plenty of social media back in the mid-twentieth century. “Rural telephone systems used party lines back then,” he points out, “and you knew more about your neighbor than any Facebook page can tell you.” Nearly 90 years old, Raymond is like the wiki-page of information about early rural phones. “Subscribers saved money by joining a group line, and each household had its own ring. Ours was two shorts and a long, and only one person could use the line at a time. If I called my friend Eddie about goin’ huntin’, the other eight or ten families on the party line had to wait to use the phone.”
The system had obvious drawbacks. Others could listen in, and some dominated use of the line. Raymond claims he and Eddie kept it short. “Our calls were more like tweets or whatever my grandson calls ‘em. But when Eddie’s sister was talkin’ with her boyfriend from Marshall County, you may as well try an hour later unless you wanted to eavesdrop and listen to them saying ‘whatcha’ doin’?’ Sigh. ‘Nothing much; how ‘bout you?’ Sigh.”
Raymond continues listing his reasons why social media “ain’t nothin’ new.”
“Bloggin’ back then? You bet. Aunt Doris would call Mom every morning to keep us -- and anyone eavesdroppin’ -- informed about her arthritis. Mrs. Anderson explained her family’s trip to Clear Lake so well, Mom knew how many fish each of their eight kids caught. If phones then could send Polaroid snapshots, we’d a had to look at Mr. Anderson in his swimmin’ trunks. Makes me glad we didn’t have Facebook.
“And Twitter? Our small town switchboard operator, Pauline, was a one-woman Twitter account. She could plug in all circuits and send a special call for emergencies, activities, or bargains at the Dry Goods Store. She might ‘tweet her followers’ about severe weather, a kid lost in a cornfield, or some local boy just back from military service. I’ve read excerpts from some of them politician’s Twitter messages, and I gotta tell ya: Pauline’s messages were a whole lot clearer.
“We even had spam back then. Remember I mentioned Eddie’s sister? The older folks might just make noise when lifting the receiver to nudge a long-winded conversationalist along. We kids were a bit cruder, more in the Three Stooges style of etiquette.”
Some in our small town like to point out that Raymond often has a cord running up to his ear from the iPod in his flannel shirt pocket. “Big band tunes.” he says. “It ain’t quite like being there, but I gotta admit, the sound quality is the cat’s pajamas.” And Raymond has been known to use his cell phone on occasion. “Sure, they have some advantages. You couldn’t take the party-line phone with you on the tractor. On the other hand, no party-line phone ever interrupted Sunday church services with a hip-hop ringtone blasting out.”