There is probably no faster way to prove that I am one of the older people on this course then to announce that when I was growing up we had a party line. A what? Rural telephone services did not have private lines in the 1960’s. While everyone had their own telephone number that actual line was shared by an average of 6-8 families. If you wanted to call out you had to make sure that no one else was on the line. If someone was using it you were expected to hang up immediately so as to give your neighbour privacy and they, in turn, should have felt obligated to wind up their call as soon as possible. In truth, people ease dropped and some people refused to be short winded on the phone. Sharing a telephone line with neighbours was a difficult process and there was no such thing as a private conversation.
Technology Finally Brought Private Service
The introduction of private service took a few years and initially it was offered as a premium service for those that were willing to pay more. However, before long the party line was dead and people could talk in privacy. I can remember that it took years for people to say anything remotely personal on a telephone line because they were still convinced that people listened in. It really took years for people to relax and feel confident that they were holding a private conversation, but once they did it was a whole new world. Privacy was king. People were happy that they could call the doctor’s office for an appointment and actually tell the receptionist what was wrong with them! People talked about personal issues and discussed intimate details with abandon. They were really happy that the idea of sharing personal information with others was gone forever. Or so they thought.
It wasn’t just telephone conversations that were private. Mail was considered sacred and some people protected their correspondence very carefully. There were many subjects that a person could not bring up in civil conversation and personal matters were just that, personal. I even remember receiving my school report cards in sealed manila envelopes so that others couldn’t see the details. The problem was that I couldn’t either, which was a bit nerve wracking. It was a very closed, private and really happy world. It remains in evidence today. Some of our older seniors still protect their privacy as best they can but even they seem to know that it is a losing battle. Even people my age, in their 50’s, are far more reluctant to let go of what little privacy remains.
The Return of the Party Line
Social media is the new party line, except that openness and sharing is celebrated. For the most part people really don’t have the privacy issues of my generation, provided they are the ones that do the sharing. People post photos, make videos and sometimes say some pretty gnarly things on the net. What may even seem extreme by today’s standards will be routine in 10 years. I can’t image where things will be in 20 years and I really don’t want to know. That would take the fun out of it!