It’s a pretty safe bet that there is an entire generation out there that has no idea what a rotary phone is and how to work it. If they do have an idea, it’s probably only because they saw it in a museum or in their grandparent’s home. Astronomy instrumentation engineer Justine Haupt of the Cosmology Instrumentation Group at the Brookhaven National Laboratory took that old school approach and added it to modern technology, creating a cellphone with a rotary dial.
“Why a rotary cellphone?” asked Haupt. “Because in a finicky, annoying, touchscreen world of hyperconnected people using phones they have no control over or understanding of, I wanted something that would be entirely mine, personal, and absolutely tactile, while also giving me an excuse for not texting. …So, it’s not just a show-and-tell piece…. My intent is to use it as my primary phone. It fits in a pocket; it’s reasonably compact—calling the people I most often call is faster than with my old phone, and the battery lasts almost 24 hours.”
Haupt used 3D printing to make the phone, pairing the rotary mechanism with a microcontroller and an Adafruit Fona 3G cell transceiver. Battery levels are monitored thanks to an LED bar graph, while caller ID is provided via a low-energy e-ink display. There are also some speed-dial buttons for those moments when the rotary dial might be a bit too slow. A sliding power switch button turns the phone on and off. “The point isn’t to use the rotary dial every single time I want to make a call, which would get tiresome for daily use,” states Haupt. “The people I call most often are stored, and if I have to dial a new number or do something like set the volume, then I can use the fun and satisfying-to-use rotary dial.” Haupt is definitely making a statement with this phone—one that is against all the modern advances that dominate our lives. “The point isn’t to be anachronistic,” says Haupt. “It’s to show that it’s possible to have a perfectly usable phone that goes as far from having a touchscreen as I can imagine, and which in some ways may actually be more functional.”