The formerly familiar swooosh as the caller rotated the dial clockwise on a rotary phone to the “finger stop” and then the click-click-click as the dial returned counter-clockwise to the start position is now a novelty application that you can install on your iPhones for nostalgic yuks. Adolescents waiting in line nearby will wonder what the heck that sound is, while we older fogies will know you’re poking fun at us and our ancient ways.
11 sounds your kids have probably never heard
A little note to blow the kids’ minds a little wider open: Why did phones used to click?
It may be hard to believe, but the world was not always completely contained on microchips, with we mortals floating in a nutrient-rich liquid bath while plugged into the Matrix via a probe inserted through the base of our skulls. No, sir. Phones actually used to have to send a signal to tell an exchange what number to dial.
Whereas today you just enter 10 digits and it sends that information to a computer, which then locates the person you are calling and then SPACE MAGIC. That old dial up there was purely mechanical. When you turned it and it wound back, it clicked past a little electric contact, sending a pulse through the line, one pulse for one, eight pulses for eight, carefully timed and ordered on a nice round dial. Early telephone exchange machines, which replaced manual operators, counted the clicks as electric pulses through the telephone wire, and routed your call to the callee.
Radiolab did an amazing segment about a guy named Joe Engressia, Jr. He figured out a lot of those signals in order to get free calls, whose whistles, chirps and phone hacks started a movement called “Phone Phreaking”. Super-cool look at the history of phone engineering.