Social Media = Old Time Party Line

I was looking for a way to describe social media to an older (70+) friend of mine.  She views the various platforms with suspicion. Frankly, the stream of information can be a bit overwhelming.

Then the answer came to me. The social media of today is the telephone party line of the past.

Party lines helped communities communicate.  Multiple homes would be on the same loop, allowing affordable telephone service.

Upside? People could call family and friends.

Downside? There was very little privacy. The Nosy Nancy’s and Chatty Cathy’s could all listen in and comment.

Lily Tomlin‘s classic character Ernestine  immortalized the role of the telephone operators in the party line world.

The operator connected people, knew what was happening in the community, could tell you the train schedule, send out bulletins, tell you who’s had a baby, what child is in juvie, and even provide weather updates. Our social media platforms are the same.  The only difference is social media has a global reach.  Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google+,  and other platforms all connect us people around the globe.  The software being an automatic switchboard operator.

Facebook, Twitter, Google+ are just a few of the social media services in the cybersphere.  They are the party lines of the now.  People share the same ‘line’ to communicate their messages or to just keep in touch with family.  Like the party lines there can be very little privacy. Unlike the part lines the user can set up targeted communication and privacy settings. Instead of everything be ‘public’, the communication can be limited the specific audience you choose.

The finite world of rural community party lines has gone global.  You have control over what you say and to whom you say it.

Pull up a computer and enjoy the conversation.



  • That is a very good way of describing it, I must say. I was nervous about social media, for the very reason of little privacy, but I can control exactly what people know about me anyway (not that there is much to know.) Social media is quite incredible. The other day I was talking to someone who is like on the other side of the world, and *their messages were coming instantly!* Mind = blown. Hehe 🙂

    • It’s not a bad thing to find friends the world over. 🙂

  • Good analogy. Party line and bit and byte parsing. And the tools of social media allow for multiply uses. One can back and forth on twitter, for example, or set up a follow list to have a great news feed. OH, and recently I saw a tweet that said…”off this phone.”


    • I just moderated a chat with an author on Twitter. It was a rambunctious, rowdy time with all the different voices.

  • I remember party lines. A phone line was shared with a half dozen residents; each “party” had a unique ring code. It was very bad to pick up the phone if it wasn’t your ring.

    • My mom remembers them, her response to my analogy? ‘I never liked them.’ Getting her onto social media has been a challenge.

  • Very good analogy. 🙂

    • I have my moments. 🙂

  • LOL we had a party line growing up – I’d forgotten how much “fun” they were. There were only a few other kids on the line and we were always being told off for talking on the phone… It just goes to show even then people were behaving badly “on-line”. We all knew (via our mothers) who were the eavesdroppers in the district.

    • It’s amazing how the tech changes but human nature really doesn’t. 🙂

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