The Evolution of My Dream Technology

I've had versions of the same recurring dream/nightmare for decades. While I don't particularly enjoy the dream, it is hilarious to me to reflect on how it has evolved over time to keep up with advances in technology in my waking life.

The dream always involves the urgent need to use a phone at some point. Why I need to use the phone, who I'm trying to contact, how I feel when I'm doing so, what I'm trying to communicate - these circumstances all vary. But commonly, I am unable to complete dialing or entering the number - I cannot put through the call.

When I first began having these dreams, the phone was rotary dial. Some of you reading this blog may never have had occasion to use one of these ancient devices. Usually, I would realize that I had not dialed one or more of the numbers all the way to the fingerstop, and would have to hang up and start over, again and again. Then I got my first pushbutton phone and the dream updated itself - now the problem became that I pushed buttons in the wrong sequence, or hit the button next to the one I intended to hit, and so had to hang up and start over, again and again. Eventually, cell phones entered my waking life and soon enough they showed up in the dream, too. Now the problem was the tiny keypad and my too-large fingers - hitting two keys at once, not being able to see the keys well, not being sure I had actually depressed a key, pressing a key and having it enter itself more than once - and thus having to hang up and start over again and again. Interestingly I never had dropped signal problems. The keypad, entering the numbers, being able to "dial" the phone number, remained the source of the frustration.

Last year I got an iPhone. It's taken awhile, but the iPhone finally showed up in the dream. (Maybe it's taken awhile because I don't have the dream as often anymore. Thank you, decades of therapy!) Now the problem is that touchscreen - I touched the number, but did it actually enter? Did I hit two numbers at once? And I'm back to the entering the number in the wrong sequence frustration, as well as the multiple entries from one touch. But it's all on a beautiful, lovely iPhone, so maybe at some point in the dream I can just tell myself "screw it, let's forget the phone call and surf the web or check email!"

I'm not sure what you can possibly make out of this blog post, except the fact that I am very, very, very, very old.


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That's so weird! I have a reoccurring dream of urgently needing to send smoke signals...

And I have recurring dreams of sending messages via drums - did I send that beat just right? Am I playing loudly enough? I think that means I am older than you, Zuska!

That's interesting. I have a similar recurring dream, and it certainly updated itself from a rotary dial phone to a push button phone, but it's still not cordless. In real life, my cell phone has been my primary phone for 10+ years, but only rarely is a cell phone featured in the dream. Maybe my subconcious is trapped in the 80's?

ZOMG--I have the same dream, only (like bluefoot) I've only advanced to pushbutton cordless land line phones ca. 1988. It's maddeningly frustrating.

Oddly (given the amount of time I spend on my computer) I never have dreams of frustration at not being able to use my computer or wireless connection. Maybe your iPhone will set you free!

Does having had a rotary phone as a child and adolescent make us "really, really old"?

And what of my aunt, who still has one on her wall, though she mostly uses the touch-tone extension? (I suspect this is sheer inertia: the phone was on the dining room wall when she moved in, it works, it's still there.)

Her wall mount rotary phone *still works* and how many times is she going to have to replace the newer extension? Those old rotaries were built to last in a way that modern technology just isn't.

My 12 and 10 year old cousins saw a rotary phone for the first time a couple of years ago (an antique type phone I got from my grandmother). They lifted the handset, and started pushing the numbers as if it was a push-button phone. My 23 year old cousin and I stared at them astonished and she said 'I feel so old'.

I was recently on a tour of a fancy old home that had a rotary dial phone on the wall in the butler pantry. The tour guide told us that on a tour she did recently, a young kid in the group saw the phone and asked her what it was.

Everyone in the group felt very, very old at that moment.

Let me tell all you young folks how it was in the old days. The phone was on the wall and there were two 1.5 volt batteries inside. To get outside, you picked up the receiver, and gave a long ring by turning the crank on the side. The operator would answer and you would tell her who you wanted to talk to. It was a party line and two short rings meant a call for us. We could, by doing the appropriate rings, contact someone else on the party line.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 26 May 2010 #permalink

Zuska/Bluefoot/Historiann: Is it possible that the difference reflects changes in the way you use the phone? I can imagine that if you only ever use your mobile to ring people whose numbers are already in its phonebook then your brain might not associate it with dialing at all. Of course, dreams aren't often that logical. (Well, mine aren't, so naturally I assume yours won't be either :)

My grandma used to still have one of those rotary phones when I was a kid. I remember my mom patiently showing me how to use it and my frustration. As I remember, you stick your finger in the hole at the top, and then drag it to the correct number? Then you had to wait as it slowly rotated back to the original position, and then repeat six more times. I'm not sure that I ever got the hang of it.

My house suits me just fine. It is 90 years old and it has one single phone jack, located in the kitchen. Because who would want more telephones or feel the need for privacy while talking on the telephone?

And the times, they spiral. I grew up during the age of rotary phones. When I was a teenager, it was quite an indulgence for teens to have telephone jacks in their bedrooms; certainly not every family did.

And then there was the era of houses built, oh maybe in the 80s and 90s, where phone jacks were put in every main room, bedroom and the luxury users even had them in the bathrooms.

Now we're cycling back to only needing a single phone jack. Cordless phones are all my teenage nephews have ever known; with cable modems and wireless routers, who would need more than one telephone jack in the house?

So my little 90 year old house is cutting edge once more.

feralboy12 @ 5 - I laughed out loud at your comment!

Chrisj @ 12 - I actually "dial" quite a few numbers. It's faster than finding them in the phone's phone book.
I've been thinking about it, now that I know other people have this dream. I wonder if the lack of progression in my dreams is because I still have an old-school non-cordless touch tone phone in a closet. When I lived in CA, having an old-school phone was important in case of power outages from earthquakes. Often when the power was out, the phone lines still worked, but wouldn't do you much good if you had a cordless that needed power. So everyone I know had an old phone either in the bedroom or in a closet they pulled out during emergencies.

I grew up with rotary phones, my grandma had an old one and my parents had trendy 70's ones. I keep trying to convince myself I'm not old though.

It is a fabulous commentary on history and technology, though.

My father's mother had the Wilhelm Candlestick telephone as a young woman; by the time my father was around they had graduated to a Bell Model 102. By the time my father died, cell phones just over 3" big were common. What *is* the evolution of communication devices that we'll see before we die?

...On a side note, that surely does have to be one of the most common technology-related anxiety dreams. Along with dreams about trying to drive your car from the back seat, or not being able to steer properly.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 01 Jun 2010 #permalink

My daughter used to get many calls at home and would constantly lose the handset to the cordless phone, meaning no one else could use the phone either. Once in exasperation, she came up with what she thought was a good idea. "Hey Mom. You know, they should put a string on the handset, so that you never lose it and it's always attached to the base." She never did figure out my insane laughter!

Excuse the patent dream-analysis 101 of this comment, but I can't help but think your dream is directly related to this:

"I have put in (literally) decades of work acting on the assumption that folks are reasonable and well-intentioned, and trying to be effective and get messages across."

And it seems like you weren't successful (due to the entrenched nature of the patriarchy, not because you didn't try hard enough!), hence the dream-frustration and your subconscious interpreting it as a technical failure.

PS My mother had a rotary phone until the mid-80's. By the time I was in 8th grade I had my own push-button phone in the shape of giant red lips. Classy! Unfortunately for me I shared the line with my stepfather's fax machine so more than once I was awoken in the middle of the night by persistent faxers from China.

By roesmoker (not verified) on 07 Jun 2010 #permalink