Why do you "dial" a push-button phone?

I've actually been on a steamship that set sail. And I've seen diesel-powered ships steaming for distant ports. Almost everyone these days still dials a telephone, when dials on telephones have been pretty much supplanted by buttons.

The terms for actions tend to outlast the things they referred to, especially when the action doesn't change materially (you're still entering a telephone number) but the particular technology does. People adopt a verb and then stick with it, even in the face of accelerating change.

With a nod to retronyms, I call these neo-retronyms. Do you know of more examples? Please send them to me.

  • "Back to the drawing board!"
  • There are mixed examples:

    I once saw a photograph of a fellow sitting in front of a then-new CAD (computer-aided design) system, with a beautiful color display, looking at: a blueprint. White lines on a blue background. (It was a Sun-3/160C, C for Color, which could display at least 256 colors, even then.)

    A blueprint, or cyanotype, was blue because it had to be: that was an artifact of the technology, not a necessary feature of image copying generally. But when full-color computer displays became available, the first thing the designers did with them (at least in CAD systems) was replace the black-and-white image with one that echoed the familiar cyanotype. Even from a distance, you could tell the operator was working on an engineering drawing because it was blue.

    This was an example of early-stage technology adoption: Some of the new features are used, to improve some of the old processes, but the full potential is still to be tapped. John Brooks, in his _Telephone: The First Hundred Years_ (a book -- yet one seems not to turn web pages!) talks about early executives who put the telephone with the messenger boys on the ground floor -- it only replaced the channel between the messengers -- only later putting it on their own desks and realizing the full benefit (and incidentally putting the messenger boys out of work, but that's another book).

    I'm also collecting examples of this phenomonon, whether in images or words. I'll put them up here. Send them to me.

    Here's an analog power meter on a very digital piece of test equipment.

    Of course, the avionics industry sees the wisdom of keeping a familiar (and superior!) user interface. The computers eventually caught up to the capability of making good fakes.
    last edited jxh Sat Oct 13 13:57:32 CDT 2018