Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Brief History of Rings

I honestly don’t remember having a telephone in our house until we moved to Florida in 1964 or so.  If we had to make a phone call, we went to the nearest pay phone.  Back then they were phone booths with room enough for Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, to change into Superman so he could fight his never ending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way!  If Clark or Superman needed to make a call, he need only drop a dime for local calls, and have a pocket full of change for toll calls, complete with the insistent voice of the operator respectfully requesting that you please deposit another 25¢ for an additional two minutes.  I always wondered if Superman got caught, would he get busted for indecent exposure?
My grandparents had phones – both sets.  They were huge devices mounted to the wall, and to use them, you rang up an operator who connected your call for you.  If you remember Lily Tomlin’s phone lady, you’re pretty dead on the experience.  Most phones shared a party line, and each party had their own distinct ring pattern, but anyone could pick up and listen in on the conversations of others on your party.  My mother’s parents number was Randolf-50309 (RA5-0309)  That was 46 years ago.
The next step was rotary dial wall phones that let you dial your party, but in the beginning they were still sharing party lines.  This is what we first got in our house in Florida.  I was in 7th grade.  Over the next few years, we graduated to the slimline rotary dial private line, and then to the pushbutton slimline private line version, now available in other colors than black, and you could purchase them from someone other than American Telephone and Telegraph – Ma Bell – the only game in town.
Sometime after I got married, finished college, and had children of my own, mobile phones in two flavors became available.  One was installed in high end automobiles only rich people owned, and the other came in a steamer chest you lugged around on a shoulder strap.  Watch Lethal Weapon – the first one.  Danny Glover is on an overpass talking to the cop shop shrink with one of these.
I’m going to fast forward to the present.  The last phone booth I saw was a wall mounted non enclosed thingy in the Netherlands that you used a pre-paid card for.  It took coins, but was less expensive with the card.  That was ten years ago.
My current phone would make Dick Tracy envious, and it’s not even top of the line.  It slips neatly into my shirt pocket, has a full qwerty keypad, takes photographs and short movies, will hold hundreds of music files, photos, and even books, as well as several versions of the Bible and the complete Matthew Henry commentary.  It will tell me, within 6 feet, where I am, and tell me how to get to where I need to go.  It stores my personal day planner, address book, sends and receives email, lets me keep tabs on my weight, and can tell me if the subway is on time in London.  I can watch TV on it, Listen to Pittsburgh radio, edit my new novel, and, here’s the really cool part, make phone calls by telling it who to call!
It plays Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in C when someone calls me!  And, as I said, it’s not even a top of the line model.  Those ones brew coffee and give you a back massage.  Mine will only tell me where to find a Starbucks and Lady Jasmine’s House of Epidermal Pleasure and Relaxation.
I’m holding out for the implant that lets you beam over to Starbucks while watching reruns of Star Trek and setting up your personal holosuite.  I think that’s next year’s iPhone.
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