Saturday, April 12, 2008

Olympia 6 - 1162. Funny How Things Change.




It was a black telephone secured to a wall near the kitchen and in a passageway leading to the den. It was the old-style phone, made and issued universally by ATT long before the days of touch-tone. Back then it was ATT or no phone service at all. The phone's location discouraged long, gossipy conversations, it being in this short hallway, but folks didn't talk on the phone much in those days. Non-local telephone calls, or "long distance" was expensive, and used mostly for emergency or for a special holiday "hello." The phrase, "I'm on long distance," was a commonly heard phrase, meaning, "don't bother me, this is important." Up into the late 70's meetings could be put on hold while someone was called for a "long-distance" call.

Olympia 6-1162 was the black phone's number, I remember it, now 40 years after I last used it.

Yesterday, in contrast, I was on my cell phone so long the battery went dead. I did not remember one phone number of my frequently called numbers. Not one. I needed to reach my wife or son and started to call from my office phone, but could not remember a number. I had to email other family members so that they could forward me a phone number. I finally reached someone who gave me a number.

The very fact that anyone can be reached at anytime kind of changes our relations to one another and the way we do things. We start worrying about someone if they don't answer after several tries. I felt cut-off the two hours my cell phone was without charge. What if something goes wrong? How will I know? The obligation and burden to be available at all times is the unintended consequence of "cell phones" and is implicit to the modern sensibility -- especially those under 30. As Marshall McLuhan said, "the telephone is an irresistible intruder in time and space."* (emphasis mine)

Are we better off? Probably not -- especially when our brains, like our batteries, go dead.

(*The Medium is the Message, Marshall McLuhan)

4 comments:

Rambler said...

When I came home to Fort Worth back when and got my phone, Mother made the comment: Oh, you're going to have a Wayside number. Back in the 50s, that was a rather classy exchange, being as it included the TCU area, so she was suitably impressed. Of course, it was just "92" to me.

Francis Shivone said...

Ramb. -- I was too young to remember, or know of, the cache' connected to the prefixes. Like zip-codes they had them, as you say.

Rambler said...

I don't remember the social aspects of exchanges, either. I do remember that when we came back to FW in late '66, our phone # was an Axminster (Ax/29) number. Dad worked downtown and had an Edison (ED/33) number. Sometime before changed in '67-'69 sometime.

What always surprises me is to go somewhere they don't have to dial the area code; it reminds me that at one time, small town folk just dialed the last 4 digits, since they all had the same exchange. My grandparents (on a party line no less), were in that situation until 1960, at the earliest.

Rambler the goof said...

Sometime before changed in '67-'69 sometime.

corrected: That changed sometime in '67 or '68.

Now where's that coffee.