Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Telegraph, telephone and tell-a-Edna


Alexander Graham Bell invented the first telephone and the first words transmitted were:

“Can you hear me now?”

Ha, ha. Just kidding. Actually, his first words were: “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you."

And so it began. Communication has never been the same.

If Mr. Bell had invented texting, the first message would’ve likely been: “W-dawg. How kewl is this? I want to c u.”

I’m not so old that I can remember when you picked up the phone and told the operator, “Mabel, get me the sheriff.” But I am old enough to remember when all telephones were black and tethered to the wall. Yes, that’s right younger folks; you couldn’t walk and talk or even drive while talking.

You just sat there. Inches from the wall, talking on the ONE family phone. Like it wasn’t bad enough that you had to share the one phone with your entire family, you had to share the phone line with all of your neighbors. This was incorrectly called a “party line” because it was anything but a party. You always had that one nosy neighbor. You could hear her click on:

“Edna, I can hear you breathing.”

“No, I’m not.”

I remember one time, Edna was doing some remodeling and as she listened in on your call, you could hear the “tap, tap, tap” of the hammers in the background. There was no doubt who the eavesdropper was:

“Edna, I can hear the hammering.”

“No, you can’t.”

I can also remember rotary dial phones. I hated when I had to dial a number with lots of eights and nines. Seems it took forever. If you tried to rush the dial, you usually just ended up breaking it.

Now I have a “smart” phone. Mostly, it’s a smart aleck phone as it mocks me with all it can do that I can’t. There’s an “app” for this and an “app” for that. The apps are mostly for things I have no interest in. As soon as they come up with an app that will do the dishes and fold the laundry, they’ll get my attention.

However, I will say that now that I have a smart phone, I’m never bored. Okay, I only use it to play solitaire, but you can wile away a lot of hours in line at the post office playing solitaire.
I was playing a game in the waiting room at the doctor’s office recently and I was (almost) sad when they finally called my name and I hadn’t finished my game. Recently, my solitaire game told me, “Congratulations! You’ve now played 1,000 games! Tell your friends!” Oh, sure. Like I need my friends knowing I have no life.

Back in the olden days, our main methods of communication were the telephone, telegraph, a hand-written letter or two tin cans connected with string. Hollering out the window worked, too. If you lived in the country, you might use the occasional smoke signal. 

Mostly, we communicated by (gasp!) sitting face-to-face and talking. There were no texts, tweets, Facebook, cell phones, laptops, tablets, computers or smart phones.

There was, however, something called “pay phones.” They were all over the place, usually housed in “booths.” You put in a dime and could make a local call. That is, if you could get near it. There was usually a line of people and some poor guy who was in trouble with his girlfriend, hogging the phone. If you had to make a long distance call and had a 55-gallon drum full of loose change, you could call anywhere in the U.S. and talk for 3-minutes. You spent most of that call hurriedly explaining that you only had three minutes:

“It’s me. I only have three minutes.”

“Hey! So nice to hear from you!”

“I only have three minutes!”

“So, how have you been?”

“No time for niceties! I only have three minutes!!”

Long distance was so expensive that you essentially used it to send private, coded messages to your family. For example: I would give the operator my parents’ phone number then ask that she request that they accept charges. My parents would say, “Kay who?? Of course not!” (wink, wink). It was our private signal that I was on my way home from college. We really thought we were pulling one over on the operator, but looking back, she was probably totally onto us since she likely spent half her day with these fake charge-reversal requests.

I remember when they came up with push-button phones. We got my dad one for Father’s Day. Every time we got Mom or Dad the latest gadget, they looked at us like we had parked the space shuttle in the living room. And of course, they never worked. Microwaves didn’t cook, VCR’s didn’t tape, answering machines didn’t answer. And naturally, this new push-button phone didn’t work. (It was never “operator error” of course.)

I examined Dad’s phone and determined that it was not set on “pulse” OR “tone.” I calmly explained that he needed it to be set to “pulse or tone.” This frustrated him even further as he wailed, “What on earth is a pulsertone??”

I don’t know what old Edna (rest her soul) would think of all of today’s contraptions. I can imagine she’d be all excited with the new cell phone that her kids gave her and call everyone she knows:
“Can you hear me now?”

“Yes, Edna, I can hear you.”

“No, you can’t.”

Well, this article must come to an end. My smart phone wants a massage and a cool beverage. Plus, I’m three games of solitaire away from 2,000.

Kay Frances is known as “America’s Funniest Stressbuster.” She gives humorous keynote presentations and stress management workshops all over the United States. She is the author of “The Funny Thing about Stress; A Seriously Humorous Guide to a Happier Life.” To order the book or find out more about Kay, visit Or drive by her house and holler.

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