The Party Line is Back!

imagesax29dkpxThere 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!


7 thoughts on “The Party Line is Back!

  1. Well this brings back memories. I remember my mother ordering a party line for us because it was cheaper. Eeesh! You raise some great points though about respect, courtesy and honouring each other’s privacy. I still cannot go into someone’s purse or wallet unless they are present and I have their permission. That is how I was raised. And I’m shocked by some of the things people share on Facebook – both because it’s so banal or so very very personal.

    • Thank you Audrey and I share the same values. People’s personal stuff is truly personal and private. Sorry about the party line but we all have our crosses to bear. I guess it would equate to dial up internet service today. How very cruel to a kid!

  2. I know we never had a party line at home but it sure felt like it when my little sister would run upstairs and use that phone to listen in. I remember having a party line at my cottage however. But it was never busy because not many people are making calls up at a cottage. (We had it removed and replaced by a cell phone)
    I never really think about my privacy when using social media/technology. I guess it’s because I wasn’t raised in a time where privacy was a luxury I don’t have the same appreciation for it.
    Love the connection you made back to social media!

  3. I too remember party lines and It seems like five life times ago (not really though – I’d be giving away my age then). It was hard to not listen in when you picked up the phone – especially if it was really gossipy but my mother would always yell to “hang it up if someone else is using the phone.” Courtesy and allowing people their privacy has definitely been wiped away with social media. I use some of the social media platforms for personal use and I am always mindful to not react rudely to comments and I still cherish my privacy so I kept things close to the vest.

  4. I think your mention of people eavesdropping on the party line has a definite connection to the interest in social media: we all want to know what’s going on! The world has changed so much, with technology allowing us to stay up-to-date with people we haven’t seen in years and don’t actually interact with.

  5. I love this!!! What a great analogy, the difference is that today’s participation in Social Media is a party line that has been carefully sculpted and crafted, or even worse, crafted for you by friends uploading and tagging. Everybody participates in Social Media in different ways. I have friends that only post how glorious their lives are, friends that are obsessed with their Cross Fit work outs, my Tupperware friend, and finally the attention seeking friend. If you didn’t post your run on Facebook, did it really happen?

    My son often talks about the ‘right to be forgotten’. Today’s youth doesn’t have the luxury of screwing up and then growing up; pictures uploaded today are on the internet are forever, all available to future friends and even employers. I am certainly glad I grew up in an era that didn’t include ducky faces, and snapchat.

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