Relics: Dictators among us (Dictaphone)
At a time when the cell phone had become popular but not ubiquitous and the smart phone was still a toy for the affluent, one day I heard someone on the street ask me a question. While thinking, “Are you talking to me?” I asked, “Pardon me?” because I hadn’t caught what she’d said. The young woman sharply shot back, “Not you!” while pointing to her phone. Apparently, I’d intruded into her world.
Even before the mobile phone, some people talked aloud while walking alone. These weren’t young folks planning hookups, or mothers tracking down wayward offspring, or couples checking in with each other. These were Very Important People with Very Important Thoughts whose Very Important Time couldn’t be wasted during their commutes. They were using Dictaphones or similar devices to record letters, memos, minutes, notes, and anything else they needed to get out of their heads and into the record. At the office, a secretary might don a headset and type the recorded words. As Dave Barry might say, there are two kinds of people: Those who dictate, and those who take/transcribe dictation. You want to be the kind who dictates.
Dictation devices weren’t new in the 1980s and 90s — they have a long history beginning in the 19th century, and they evolved throughout the 20th. According to this article, a Dictaphone plays an important role as Fred MacMurray’s inanimate confidante and eavesdropper in the 1944 film classic Double Indemnity. While Walter Neff’s thoughts were strictly private, public Dictaphone use bloomed among yuppies in 1980s and 90s Chicago, or maybe that’s when I noticed it.
Today using a Dictaphone on the street might be as jarring and quaint as getting out a Sony Walkman, although if you prefer an old school approach with new technology, you can still buy a handheld dictation device. You don’t need dedicated hardware to dictate or a secretary or administrative assistant to transcribe your thoughts, however. Just fire up an app such as Dictaphone or Dragon Dictation or the functionality built into apps such as Evernote. You can talk to your device anywhere, anytime, and it will do the hard work of deciphering what you’re trying to say. (It’s still up to you to proofread.)
If, however, you’re plotting a murder like Walter Neff, you’ll want to put both the dictation device and the phone down. Even better, set aside the dame. She ain’t worth it, kid.
Neff is confessing, really, into the machine — how he did it. A great beginning to a great movie.
I’m amused to see that the person you linked to borrowed my Mike Hammer screenshot (without a link).
I don’t think I ever got to see a person dictating on the street. Seeing someone from a distance who’s talking handsfree on a Bluetooth device is still unnerving to me. Before the device becomes obvious, I always think crazy person.
I saw Double Indemnity in a film noir class led by Roger Ebert 30 years ago and don’t remember much (except thinking, “Wait! Isn’t he the dad on My Three Sons? How could he do this?” I knew he wasn’t caught that way, but still think it’s good advice not to leave a recording. 🙂
Didn’t know about the screen shot. Also found a website devoted to early office products.
I used to see a lot of people dictating and am surprised that you can still buy a machine. I wonder how many people are left who know stenography (at my old office in the 1990s there was one).