When I was a teenager in the early 90s, the landline telephone was my social and cultural lifeline. Whether the calls were about weekend plans, homework assignments or high school gossip, there was nothing quite like receiving a phone call from your crush or best friend. Now, 22 years after I got my first cell phone, it turns out I miss listening to a dial tone.
Telephone culture is disappearing; journalist Alexis Madrigal wrote about the trend in a 2018 article for The Atlantic, blaming robocalls in large part for our increasing reluctance to answer our phones. While many aspects of our behavior and etiquette hold true since he wrote the piece, there’s been one remarkable development in the intervening year: Dialup, an artist-created app for people interested in having an old-fashioned telephone conversation.
In their individual art practices, Bay Area-based Danielle Baskin and Los Angeles-based Max Hawkins relish randomization and strange and coincidental experiences. Together, they created Dialup, a free app which allows you to connect at predetermined times with other users in the app’s growing network. Different “lines” facilitate chats on specific topics.
“There aren’t many systems for serendipitous connections with strangers and extended networks,” Baskin says. “We’d like Dialup to simulate talking to an interesting stranger on a train or running into an old friend on the sidewalk. These unexpected moments always seem ‘meant to happen.’ There’s a lot of magic in surprise conversations.”
After joining Dialup in May, I subscribed to the “Tarot Time” line, swayed by its description: “Connect randomly to other tarot readers and give each other a reading on Thursday nights. For novices and experts.” The app notifies me once a week that I’ll have an incoming tarot-themed call on Thursdays at 7pm.