Many suggested the old woman was using an early electric hearing aid (such as this one from Siemens), but Jeremy Hsu from LiveScience found the ear trumpet above, used from mid to late 19th century. An ear trumpet, more affordable and common, available in countless forms, is probably what the woman was holding.
As we noted, “her index and middle fingers are more extended, exactly as would be expected if she was holding not a candybar style mobile phone, but a more round object. Like an ear trumpet.”
So this is yet another example of contemporary fashion interpreted outside the context of past eras. Nowadays we have inconspicuous tiny electronic hearing aids, but people go around holding phones to their ears. A century ago people held hearing aids in exactly the same fashion, though that probably wouldn’t have been that fashionable.
HiLobrow compiled more examples of “time travellers” with cellphones and PDAs, the best of which must be this one of Apollo taking a picture with his phone – or as someone mentioned, perhaps trying to get a better signal from the transtemporal carrier?
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