Did someone ever tell you to “drop a dime?” Did you ever say that phrase to someone else? If so, you recall that the idiom meant, “Give me a call.” The phrase referred to the common charge for a phone call at a pay phone. The cost of a phone call was ten cents (i.e., a dime) from the 1950s until the 1980s. By the 1980s, most states had raised the cost of a pay phone call to 20 cents or 25 cents.
The whole idea of calling someone has completely changed in the three generations that have come into adulthood since the boomer years. In the 1950s and ’60s, the phone was a vital instrument to arrange plans and schedules for personal and business needs. Boomers, especially boomer girls, began expanding the idea of what a phone call could be by carrying on extended conversations with classmates after school. One of the things that enabled this shift was the notion that a household could have more than one phone. The ad blitz Bell Telephone created surrounding the first consumer-available push button phones in 1963 promoted that idea by calling one line of their new product “Princess phones.” Ford had taken a similar approach in the 1950s when their ad blitz promoted the idea of a second family car. (For additional info on phones in the boomer era, see: For Boomers, Phone Followed Function)
Still, pay phones prevailed as the go-to resource when one was not at home. Mister Boomer recalls his mother telling him and his siblings to always keep a dime in their pockets, just in case they needed to call home. Some boys in Mister B’s neighborhood wore penny loafers with their white t-shirts and blue jeans. The penny loafers were the ideal place to keep dimes that could be used in case of emergency. You could not “drop a dime” if you didn’t have one.
Today’s generation pays for gum with a cell phone (which costs much more than a dime!). They spend countless hours scrolling through videos and other internet content on their cell phones. Their cell phones never leave their sides. Yet, this generation is not all that interested in “dropping a dime” on their friends, family and colleagues. Texting has far surpassed the desire to call someone. Many have gone one step further, composing text messages not with words, but emojis. In boomer days, there may have been a small percentage of people who could speak Klingon (to boldly go where no one had gone before), but these days there is a much wider group who speak emoji. Mister Boomer is not one of them.
How about you, boomers? How has your relationship to the phone changed through the years? Was “drop a dime” ever part of your regular vernacular?