Boomers Dropped A Dime

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?

Boomers Watch Their Print Phone Books Disappear

The end of printed phone books has been predicted since the dawn of the internet in the 1980s. Nonetheless, a majority of homes from coast to coast continued to receive printed phone directories up until recent years. Though many areas of the country eliminated the print version in the early 2010s, other areas have continued the practice, including Mister Boomer’s area … until now.

Boomers recall seeing and using phone books their entire lives. The first printed phone directory appeared in New Haven, Connecticut in February of 1878, generations before Baby Boomers. It was a single page that listed all the names (but not numbers) of the people in town who had a telephone. George Coy was awarded the Bell Telephone franchise in that city, and came up with the directory idea along with inventing a switchboard with which to connect one person to another. Prior to Coy’s switchboard invention, telephones were on direct lines, causing a cacophony of connections and eavesdroppers on the line at any given time.

By 1878, people saw the logic of separating residential listings from business listings, and the Yellow Pages was born. The color of the paper was different, but also, unlike residential listings, which were alphabetically ordered (and dubbed the White Pages), business listings in the Yellow Pages appeared in categories of business first. Residential listings would remain in the White Pages. At the dawn of the Baby Boom, Bell Telephone continued to hold the monopoly on phone service in the country, and the annual delivery of printed phone directories was commonplace.

Mister Boomer has chronicled his own family’s phone trajectory from a party line to a private number, and on eventually from dial phone to push button. Yet, like most families, the phone books were a constant in his household. They were kept in a lower cabinet in the kitchen, closest to the phone on the wall.

Many boomers may recall literally being raised by a phone book, used as a booster cushion on a dining room chair, long before they could read. The sheer size of the books in metropolitan areas suggested uses other than phone number look-ups, like a quick foot stool in a pinch, or booster seat for the youngest family member to reach the dining room table.

As boomers became teenagers, the anecdotal info Mister Boomer has accumulated says that most families discouraged the use of an operator in favor of using the phone books to look up numbers. This may coincide with some areas beginning to charge a fee for directory assistance in the 1970s, and on to the breakup of the Bell Telephone monopoly in 1982.

Coupled with the news of discontinued printed phone books is info that personal directory assistance has been or is also being eliminated by many companies. The first online directory appeared in 1996. Instant look-ups online have completely replaced the need for human assistance. The fact that younger people prefer not to even make phone calls is perhaps a topic for another day.

What memories of printed phone books come to mind for you, boomers?