One Ringy Dingy


This month we are talking about community. Usually we think about community as a group of people. Humans united by place or interest who interact with each other in some way. But there is another side to community. That’s communication. My editor triggered this thought process when she questioned my use of the phrase, “your phone has been ringing off the hook” in one of my books. The character who says this is in her 60s. The phrase has real meaning for her, coming as she does, from the days when answering machines were non-existent and if someone really wanted to make you nuts, they would let the phone ring, and ring, and ring, and ring. You get the picture.

My great-grandparents’ were farmers. They didn’t have a phone. Cost too much to bring it in. Their neighbors, six miles away through the fields, further by road, had something that hung on the wall and looked like a shoebox with a horn. One side had a crank handle, the other a cuppy thing you put to your ear. There was a woman inside. You told her whom you wanted, and she told you if they were home. That was community. The operator knew everyone’s business and she shared! No secrets. Saved a ton of rotary phone

Shoeboxes gave way to rotary dial phones. These were much easier, they cut out the middle woman, but unless you had a party line, you lost the edge on the town gossip. One of my neighbors had a party line. As teenagers, we would slip the phone off the hook quietly and listen to whatever was being said. Not proud of that now, but at least we weren’t calling people and asking them if their refrigerator was running and instructing them to go catch it! Phones were community links. They brought us together, and sometimes brought us callers who drove us crazy.

In those days, phones were centrally located, and households usually had only one, two at the most. You paid for those extensions. The phone became a family gathering place. Everyone seemed to expect calls at the princess phonesame time. And it was a great way for Mom and Dad to keep an eye on what their offspring were planning. Every kid in that generation learned there is nothing as loud as a telephone whisper.

Really important people in the 1980s had banana phones. They were early cell phones, about as big as a size six sneaker, and that’s not counting the antenna. Portable home phones came along at about the same time. Suddenly banana celltalkers were freed from the wall. A revolution began. You didn’t have to find a phone to connect with someone, you just had to lug out your forty-pound banana phone (exaggeration), punch in the number, and hope the person you were calling would find their portable phone between the couch cushions before the call cut out. Eventually, it all worked out and phones got smaller, more self-contained, and truly portable. It became possible to stay in touch with friends and family from restaurants, interstates, work, and school. The community was shrinking through expansion. Suddenly we were all closer together and in frequent contact.

Now the community is changing again. Moving from voice to text. Emoticons and Emoji substitute for the depth and texture of a voiced emotion. A cornucopia of abbreviations, some longer than the words they are meant to depict, have taken the place of the subtle phrase or shaded tone. Texts serve their community well. I’ve seen groups of people in elevators thumbing away at speeds I couldn’t hope to approach only to discover they are texting each other! Texting allows huge communities to shrink to manageable groups. And one other good thing about a text. Unless you erase it, you can refer to it. How much grief could that save in terms of misunderstandings averted?

The same miracle of instant communication joins us in the Mysteristas community right now. I’m in Florida. You could be in California, or Australia. It doesn’t matter. We share a community.  Something impossible a few decades ago.

How do you feel about the ever expanding and contracting communities of communication? Do you think this trend to downsize words and communication will affect the books you read?



Author: kaitcarson

I write mysteries set in South Florida. The Hayden Kent series is set in the Florida Keys. Hayden is a SCUBA diving paralegal who keeps finding bodies. Underwater, no one can hear you scream! Catherine Swope is a Miami Realtor with a penchant for finding bodies in the darndest places. I live in an airpark in Fort Denaud, FL with my husband, five cats, and a flock of conures. And oh yes, a Piper Cherokee 6 in the hangar!

28 thoughts on “One Ringy Dingy”

  1. It makes me long for longer books and the time to read them! Or at least, books that immerse me in a voice, a world, something to take me away from fractured communication like Twitter and Facebook which is faux connection in a way. Or can be.


  2. I’ve met so many people I never would have through technology. At the same time, the frenetic pace often makes me yearn for quieter, simpler times. So I guess books are my respite. Nothing slows things down like a long book that really hooks you in.


  3. Great post! Two thoughts: I do believe the frenetic pace of our world has changed my taste in books. With no substantive proof whatsoever, I relate it to the faster cuts in television and movies. I no longer have the attention span to read something like Gone With The Wind. I do, however, listen to lengthier and more introspective works like Stephen King’s 11-22-63. Second observation: some people have mastered hiding in cyberspace from friends/family without physically running away from home: “didn’t get your call, my phone died,” “didn’t listen to my voicemail, don’t have time,” “didn’t see your text”. I feel a character coming on….


  4. Oh, the party line. My grandmother had one, and I found it fascinating. Like Lisa, I desperately wanted the princess phone (cream, with gold trim). I remember vividly when my dad wired a phone line into my bedroom, too. Woot!

    I make a conscious effort to separate myself from my devices. I found they make me cranky and impatient; seriously, I’m not a trauma surgeon, it’s okay if it takes me 10 minutes to reply to that text! But, it doesn’t feel that way.

    On the flip side, I’m with Mary. I love this group of Mysteristas, but I’ve never met any of you. How fun is that?!? And I’ve stayed in touch with people I might not have without technology.

    Interesting thoughts on changing my reading tastes. . .I’m not sure!


  5. Lev, you are very welcome. Every time I look at the title, I “see” Lily. Where did she get that shade of lipstick! it was a magnificent routine. I too long for longer books. Somehow, I thought all this technology was supposed to give us more free time. Instead, sometimes it feels like it enslaves us. Books help keep voice alive. The catch in the voice shows us something emotional is coming, Clipped words equal anger. Soft whispers have a myriad of meanings. Texts cannot compete with imagination!


  6. Mary, that is exactly it. There is definitely a trade-off. Our communities are enlarged by technology. But it’s old school that gives us comfort. Do you have books you turn to that are the visual counterpart to buttered noodles and grill cheese sandwiches? I know I do.


  7. Keenan, Me too for television and movies. I want it fast and now-no slow spots, and that has changed. I don’t think I could even watch Gone With the Wind now, and I recently tried to get through my CD set of Winds of War (the television special). Nope, loved the book, loved the special when I saw it, couldn’t sit still for the replay. Still can do longer books though, and I find them a wonderful escape. As for your second comment…a friend of mine says, “I have caller ID. And I know how to use it.” We all need a beat away from the crowd.


  8. Pamela, I forgot about how our Dads wired in our phones. Yes, of course. What a great memory. Like you, I go off line when I need to for the sake of sanity. And I cherish the communities that technology has enabled me to be a part of. When I took my husband to the Writer’s Police Academy a couple of years ago he looked around the restaurant and asked me how many of the people I knew. I told him probably all of them, but none that I would recognize.


  9. The world is shrinking with greater communication through technology. I lived overseas as a child when communication was via letters on onion-skin paper or telephone calls that had to be placed many hours in advance and probably cost a small fortune. Books, thankfully, have remained a constant!


  10. Love all those phone pictures! So interesting to think of how technology has changed community. I haven’t actually met most of my writer friends.


  11. I say “ringing off the hook” too. Never occurred to me that it was fading away. I still have a landline at work, though. 🙂 ‘Member how so many of our phones (before they went cordless) had those super-long cords that always stretched out/tangled up? <random thought

    Great post, Kait! And I am very grateful for new methods of technology for connecting with people whom I consider dear friends even though we've never met… ❤


  12. I love “finding” phrases that are still commonly used but no longer have a “real” link. With phones, well, there is quite a list beyond ringing off the hook, starting with dialing the number. It has been a L-O-N-G time since phones had dials and even bells/ringers. When I read “classic” mysteries, I find that a great story does not get bogged down by references to “old” technology. For example, to “celebrate” Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday, the members of my book club each read one of her books. Everyone agreed that they read as well today as they did when they were written. I just finished rereading “The Big Sleep” and it, as well, is not hampered by “old” technology. I think when all of you (or all y’all depending on where you are from) writers create, you should not let technology drive a story or the story will not stand the “test of time.”


  13. Oh, Sue. Ilive abroad, too for a while. There were some places that you had to go to the airport to make “long line” calls. And I remember my parents having to schedule calls to relatives in Germany. Do you remember the air mail paper that folded into its own envelope? Did I dream that?


  14. So true, Sam, yet often we are just as involved in ou cyber friends lives as if they were right next door. Maybe moreso since the intimacy couples with the anonimity makes for fewer inhibitions. O r so it sometimes seems.


  15. We have landlines at work, but one year for Christmas, my boss got everone blooooth ear-pieces, We were mobil again! I still put the phone back in “the cradle” drives my husband nuts! I’m grateful too, Cynthia.


  16. So true, 3 no 7. In fact one of my early books never saw the light of day because the mystery was driven by DOS. By the time the book was through edits, DOS was largely replaced by Windows as the visible platform.


  17. Everthing happened in te tree in DOS…And that was integral to the mystery. One of the woment in my office quit her job when she discovered DOS was going. She said, “I don’t do Windows.” And left. I often wonder what she’s doing now.


  18. Lisa and Kate, I had a princess phone. My dad worked for Mountain Bell and maybe we got a discount, I don’t know. What I do know is that he ripped that very phone out of the wall of my bedroom when I saw someone he had expressly forbidden me to see.

    Long story short, it was very “Romeo and Juliet” until my parents acquiesced. Suddenly the guy wasn’t nearly as attractive. And I got my phone back.


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