Tuesday 2 August 2011

It’s The Operator

I was thinking about phones the other day and how far we have come in a relatively short time.

There was a time when the only way to talk to your friends was to talk to your friends. You had to get up off of the chair, put on your coat and open the front door, walk either to the north, south, east or west and in due course knock on your friend’s door. It wasn’t so bad, you got some exercise and you could smile at each other or in hopefully rare sad moments you could hold or be held.

If you lived not too far away from each other and had a clear line of sight then you could use semaphore. This was only useful if the person that you were signalling actually knew semaphore as well, otherwise you just looked like an idiot.

Friends tend to move and put themselves out of walking distance and don’t have a clear line of sight. The next option was to use either the telegraph which could be expensive or to use the postal service. I don’t know of many people that have ever received a telegram, but wouldn’t that be cool! I love to get letters. They are tangible indicators that someone cares enough to take the time to say “I like you” or “I hate you, you son-of-a-bitch!” Either way it is nice. In the first instance you can look at the letter again and again, and in the second instance you have a hard copy for the law suit or restraining order.

The first phones were connected through an operator who would more often than not listen in to your call.

When I was growing up we had rotary dial phones which didn’t need the services of an operator unless you had a problem.
They weren’t called rotary phones back then, they were just phones. Everyone had one, you didn’t own it, but would rent it from the phone company. When you wanted to talk to your friends you would call their number (you memorized everyone’s number) and arrange to meet somewhere. I would vary rarely chat on the phone, preferring to see my friends in person. I am sure that I talked to girlfriends, but I have no memory of those calls. My parents seemed to feel that calls should be short and to the point, just in case someone needed to talk to us in an emergency situation. I guess like if the prime minister were going to declare war and wanted my dad’s opinion.

When I moved out west I can remember how cool it was to be able to buy your own phone. We bought one of those old time candle stick phones, what a useless piece of shit that was! It was hard to talk and hard to listen, and impossible to take notes while you were on the phone. We next got some flashy, sexy designer phone. It lasted about two weeks. Back to the old standby, except that now it was push button.

When the kids came along, they didn’t have their grandparents short and to the point ethic. They would talk on the phone until I told them to get off. I never understood how they could talk for hours to someone they had just spent the day with. I would tell them to hang up and go over to their friends or to have them come over here. They gave that “How thick are you?” look and then carried on with their conversation. The phone company anticipated this and brought in call waiting (for a price of course) so that we wouldn’t miss those important calls from the prime minister.

In the “good old days” if you were out and needed to make a call there was always a pay phone somewhere around. Often they were broken, the phone books that were supposed to be chained to the phone booth usually were missing, but since you had all of your numbers memorized, it wasn’t a problem. It is nearly impossible to find a pay phone now, because everyone has a cell phone. These wonders of modern technology are more computers with phone capability than phones. No one knows their friends numbers anymore, but they are on speed dial.

The cell phones have advanced to the stage where people don’t even talk on the phone anymore, but text or tweet their friends. This seems to be the modern version of semaphore. I can’t help but think that in the not too distant future people will use their phones to find their friends and actually go and talk to them, because really, no one knows who is listening in on your cell phone.

Maybe it is the operator.


  1. We need more phone operaters like Lilly Tomlin, are you the party to whom I'm speaking ? B

  2. Having operators might just keep us from saying something stupid.
    Probably not, but it's worth a shot.