The Silicon Valley Voice

Power To Your Voice

Goodwill Shopping Santa Clara Style

Sometimes low-tech is all you need. Take, for example, the basic telephone. These days mobile phones have so many gizmos, gadgets, features and functions that making a simple phone call is often anything but simple.

This swiss-army-knife-ification obscures that fact that telephone technology hasn’t really changed in the more than 100 years since its invention – the big advance being the rotary dial in the 1920s, which primarily benefited the Bell Telephone Company, who cagily advertised it to customers as “Be Your Own Operator.”

Even the advent of IP telephony doesn’t change the customer-side of the voice communications equation that much. That’s because most IP phone services can operate with an intermediate gizmo called an analog telephone adapter (ATA). An ATA lets you plug in – guess what – any telephone with a standard connector.


This meditation on telephony was inspired by the fact that I needed a new handset for my office. The only thing this device needs to do is make phone calls. Oh, and one other thing. It needs to accommodate my wired headset.

Apparently telephone headsets for anyone except operators are as antique as the rotary dial phone in my in-laws’ kitchen (that’s still working to this day, by the way). In the age of high quality speakerphones, I cling to this relic for phone interviews for a simple reason: everyone doesn’t need to hear both sides of my conversations.

So I headed out Saturday looking for – let’s not mince words here – the cheapest phone that worked. OfficeMax had cheap phones, but none of them accommodated the headset. The only one that did was $100. Further research conducted at Radio Shack confirmed that the relentless march of progress had left me behind.

At that point another alternative presented itself. I was right across the street from the Santa Clara Goodwill store.

Now, the Goodwill isn’t the place I generally go for high technology. It’s the place I go for high fashion – don’t laugh. From the Goodwill I’ve acquired designer dresses, vintage lingerie, a leather coat, and a considerable collection of pieces from the Ann Taylor line.

Sure enough, nestled among the Betamax video players, Sunbeam percolators, and harvest gold fondue sets I found a Motorola MA351 2.4 GHz cordless phone priced at a mere $8 – and it could be returned if it didn’t work.

This find left me at liberty to peruse the delights of the dress rack; where I chalked up an undoubted coup with a Nine West summer dress that had never been worn, an adorable pair of retro peep-toe mules, and a coordinating purse.

Including sales tax, the entire expedition set me back $32 – far less than the price of a brand new telephone. And, as for the Motorola MA351, it’s working just fine.

Carolyn Schuk can be reached at if she ever figures out how to read her email on her mobile phone.


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