"Chatting Has Come a Long Way"
By Capt. Fred Davis
Published: Saturday, February 18, 2017

This column is for my older readers with a challenge to remember and an example to the younger ones showing how spoiled they are — plus a warning of things to come.

What did you do in the past when you wanted to make a phone call? Recall way back when they were called pay phones? You had to walk a block or two to access one and if you picked the same time as your neighbors, you had to stand in line. Not only were there no phones in your pockets, there were no phones in your homes. Very few stores had phones and those that did would not allow you to use them.

Eventually, Ma Bell announced, if you were willing to pay the fee to wire your house, a clumsy black phone could be installed that would allow you to make calls from the comfort of your home. Everyone was elated at this progress until they actually tried to use the new invention. You had to share the phone with several others on a “party-line.” This arrangement called for a lot of frustration.

If someone was using the line, you had to wait, which meant you had to keep picking up the phone to listen and see if it was in use. This action often led to someone yelling, “Get off the line.” You could also just pick up the receiver and listen-in which was called “eavesdropping.” If you did this, you ran the risk of hearing things you may not have wished to know about. If you truly had an emergency, you could butt in and announce that you had to use the line. This would usually clear the line unless kids were on it and they refused to give it up.

Ma Bell was fully aware of all the problems created by the party-lines, and it came up with the offer of a private line for an additional “fee.” Thus began the long list of fees we still have to this day. After we got the luxury of private lines, we were able to upgrade to a phone that could be mounted on the wall. It had a receiver with a long line so you could move about while chatting or sit in your easy chair.

Many changes followed: colors, size, ringer sounds and even an extension line so you could have two or three phones throughout your home. All came with additional charges of course. You could always find your phone, however, because it was always on the end of the receiver. This modern phone system lasted for decades until the birth of the cell phone.

Finally, freedom to venture out and still receive those very important calls. As the cell towers rose all over the landscape, people began to drop their “land lines.” Doing this created a problem at home because when you misplaced your cell phone, you could no longer call it on the land line to discover where it was.

Phone books soon became obsolete, but the phone companies continued to print them because people paid to advertise in them. When you called people listed, many of the calls connected with the message: “The number you are trying to reach has been disconnected.” The phone books are still handy though for an address to send a “snail mail” message or program your GPS to travel for a visit.

Being un-tethered had other drawbacks besides not knowing where your phone was. If you received a video and played it over and over, there was the shock of discovery when the phone went dead and you were without your charger. If you wished to save a video — where could you put it in the phone? What if you wanted to print a text message?

As I see it, you will need a very large phone, with a screen big enough to watch your soaps and movies and the ability to print. But who will make jeans with pockets big enough to carry it?

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