"Can You Hear Me Now?"
By Capt. Fred Davis
Published: Friday, November 13, 2015

If you think you have seen this topic in a previous column, you are right. Let’s just call it recycled, which is what has happened to most of the phones the headline refers to.

The inquiry, “Can you hear me now” has been a joke among mobile phone users for years but the phrase actually dates back to the old crank-up phones. Operators would ask the question to be certain they had connected to the proper line. After the crank-ups came the dial phones. They were in two pieces, one you set down while you held the other to your ear. With the slightest movement, the bottom portion would tip over and disconnect the call.

Dial phones soon advanced and the receiver sat securely in a cradle. They were shiny black and very heavy. The receiver would easily slip out of your hand and you had to say after putting it back to your ear, “Can you hear me now?” Most phone lines in the beginning were four-party lines, so you actually would be likely to hear many conversations. Sometimes you would hear one of the parties hang up and wonder if it was the person you were talking to so the question had to be asked yet again. The day your association with all your “party line” friends ended was a relief because you knew each time you picked up your phone you could actually use it.

Fast forward to the future when the first cell phones were introduced after their invention in 1973. They were very sensitive, if you were in a building with metal siding you probably could not get clear reception. You would have to move around and ask the question, “Can you hear me now.” You would repeat this a few times until you heard a response or the caller just hung up. Sometimes, your bag phone just got too heavy to hang onto and you hung up. It took 20 years of development before the mobile phones advanced.

What a liberation when the flip phone arrived in the 1990s. Its size made it much easier to use but its performance was still inconsistent. If you were in an area with lots of trees you were once again inquiring, “Can you hear me now?” You hoped to get through the area in time to regain reception.

Who would have thought the wireless cell phone would even work let alone develop into a portable device you could talk into, hear out of, see Grandma when she sings Happy Birthday and use it to tune into your favorite TV show. Not only do the new phones far exceed Dick Tracy’s watch phone (and Apple just introduced one of those) but they have created a new question to ask. “Can you see me now?”

I’m not sure about the use of the new “smart” phones or maybe I should say: I’m not so sure of the smarts of the users. I attended a sporting event recently and five men sat in the row ahead of me. Each had their phone in hand and all of them dropped it at least once. One person actually disabled his. Where do people actually put the new-style phones when they are not clutched in their hands? I have read warnings about sleeping with them under your pillow that sound dire.

Although the cell phones have morphed into “smart” phones, I still use a flip phone. If I don’t hold it just right, however, I can’t hear or talk. So it takes some maneuvering.

Maybe people with big ears and short faces have an easier time of it. I know I have no problem finding a place to carry it and who knows maybe I will be the last person to ask, “Can you hear me now.”

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