Thursday, March 10, 2016


Here's an article I wrote for the community magazine. It's nice that I can always use a piece, even if they don't. That's the nice thing about a blog. I do think it amazing how far the phone has come since that first call.

You couldn't carry this one in your pocket.

It was on March 10, 1876, a mere 140 years ago, that Alexander Graham Bell made the first phone call: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” That one was just from room to room. Knowing what we know now about how the telephone has changed, and changed our lives, Bell probably should have used the same message sent over the first telegraph line: “What hath God wrought?”
The telephone: people spend hours talking to one another. Gian Carlo Menotti felt it worthy of a short, two-character comic opera in 1947. In The Telephone, a suitor tries desperately to propose to his girl, all the while she has almost endless conversations on the phone.

Menotti's opera
People rarely have a party line these days, but after commercial switchboards were introduced they were the least expensive way to phone. Of course, your neighbors could and sometimes did listen in on your conversations, but you listened in on theirs too. You can just picture a farm wife standing by the wall phone, listening in to what’s happening in the county. Private lines are now almost a requirement. In many households there is a private number for each family member.

German telephone operators around 1920 - that's my Great aunt Josephine on the far right -
they had to speak English as well as their native German 

It sometimes took what seemed like ages for a radio-telephone call to connect overseas, but once a transatlantic telephone cable was installed it became an almost everyday occurrence. Today, with satellite transmission, we think nothing of staying in touch when we are travelling overseas. An international Subscriber Identification Number, a SIM card, can be exchanged in our phones so that we can call to anywhere from anywhere.

"The lady of the house speaking!"
Hyacinth and her Princess Phone

The parents of teenage girls despaired when the Princess Phone was introduced by the Bell System in 1959. The phone was marketed to women; men and boys used it only as a matter of necessity. Teenage girls spent hours talking to each other, after they’d seen each other in school all day. Today those parents are probably thanking their lucky stars that it was only that hard-wired phone: now there are portable communications and computer devices of all types for parents to contend with.

The landline phone went from cumbersome, no dial, just pick it up and talk to the switchboard operator, to rotary dial, to the touch pad in use now. We still call it a ‘phone’, but it has morphed from a hard-wired talking device into a mobile talking/texting/on-line communications device with dozens of apps and games, all held in the palm of the hand.
Where do we go from here?

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