Social Media An Online Party Line?


Social Media

These days, Social Media is what everyone is buzzing about. I enjoy the opportunity to reach out and talk to people that I have not seen in years and catch up on what is going on in their lives. I have encountered others with shared interests and developed an online bond with them. Some of these people, whom I have never met in person, have become a part of my life via Social Media.

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In an effort to learn more about the past and whatever we did before Social Media, I would like to take everyone on a Social Media Road trip.

Let’s climb into our Time machine and set the dial to the late 1800’s.

The Party Line

Shaking off the dust and stepping out. Whoa… black and white, no bright vivid colors. Patting myself down in search of my smartphone… oops! I forgot they have not even been created.

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Enter the party line era. Most people, especially in rural areas, communicated with the party line. Most homes had one telephone and it was usually stationed in the kitchen. Those who could afford it (doctors, lawyers, the wealthy) would upgrade to a private line at an additional monthly charge.

Party lines provided no privacy in communication. They were frequently used as a source of entertainment and gossip, as well as a means of quickly alerting entire neighborhoods of emergencies such as fires, becoming a cultural fixture of rural areas for many decades. The drawbacks of the lack of privacy were mitigated by the reduced monthly costs.


Certain people did gain a reputation for being nosy and always trying to listen in on other people’s calls to hear the latest gossip, or for always tying up the line with excessively long calls. Back in those days, there were still many places with manual service (i.e., no dial telephones). Just pick up the phone and wait for the operator to ask “Number please?”. Each phone had a different ring so you could tell who it was for, then ignore it (or try to) if the ring wasn’t yours.

Party lines helped communities keep in touch with each other. Multiple homes would be on the same loop thus allowing affordable means to communicate. The upside was people could stay in touch. The downside was there was little, if any, privacy.  The Chatty Cathys and Nosy Nancys could all listen in and add their own two cents.

Anyone remember Lily Tomlin’s character Ernestine?

She immortalized the role of the phone operator in the party-line world. As she waited for her phone call to go through to her customers, she listened to the phone ringing at the other end of the line and counted, “One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingies….”

When someone answered, she nasally continued with, “A gracious good morning to you… have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?”

From then on, all “Bell” broke loose as Ernestine abused her phone customers, intermittently laughing like a pig (snort! snort!).


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Time Marches On

These days, the things people say and share on Social Media Outlets never ceases to amaze me.

Some must be attention seekers who rely on the likes/dislikes, re-tweets and shares of others who follow them. I have witnessed everything from lovers’ spats via someone’s timeline to photos that should be saved for the bedroom only. People are always looking for someone to validate their opinions. There are some I know I should just delete, but I find some of their rants quite entertaining. I can always block them. Some things just can’t be unseen though, if you know what I mean.

Party lines are not much different than the Social Media outlets of today. We often hear about how wonderful and great the world is now by social media outlets bringing all of us together in a major love fest. Sing with me now, Kumbaya

Posting on Facebook, Twitter and listening in on party lines has been around in different forms as long as gossip and gabbing over the fence.

Unlike the party line though, with social media you can choose, through your settings, targeted communication and privacy. Instead of everything being “out there”, the communication can be limited to a specific audience.

Think about it in this way– if you wouldn’t be comfortable sharing what you have to say on a party line, you probably should not share it via social media. Sharing something on social media is exactly like discussing what’s happened on the party line, putting it in the newspaper, or on television/radio. Anyone can stumble upon the information: clients, future employers, current employers, family, etc…

So, take it from Sherri (aka “The Flash”), “Don’t share on social media what you don’t want everybody and their brother knowing about. Pick up the dang phone and call someone if it is meant to be private. Grab a glass of wine, some cheese and crackers and invite someone over to share your woes. Face to face communication does not have to be a thing of the past.”

If you take the time to ponder the thought, we are actually living in one long party line stretching over thousands of miles, and years.

About the Author

Sherri Meinke

A long-standing Computer Geek with over 25 years of experience. Having owned her first Apple IIe and moving on up the ranks with a multitude of Windows-based pc’s to her latest toy, a Dell Venue 11 Pro tablet with Windows 10. Sherri repairs, upgrades, and recycles computers as well as consults, trains & designs Websites. She is a Former AOL Community Leader and loves forums as well as online training. She created the "Camp Wired" computer training program at the Medina County Library system, 8 years ago. It is a free computer education program teaching technology in a relaxed atmosphere where students at all levels get to mentor other students and grow in their knowledge and understanding of technology. This program runs year round with no signs of slowing down.

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