Friday, January 7, 2011

Kingswood 3...

[Memory Lane warning: gratuitous recording of old memories and stating of the obvious to follow...]

I read an interesting article online the other day about 10 things that a baby born in 2011 would likely never have seen in their lives; things that us older folks would be used to today (or in the recent past). Not surprisingly, most of them were technologically oriented, some in the sense of technology replacing them entirely, and some in the sense of technology just moving into a new phase.

I remember at different times growing up being fascinated by the idea of what my grandmother (b. 1900, d. 1999) would have seen come about in her lifetime. This with the understanding that I overlapped my grandmother for 33 years, but in her incredibly long life she still would have been 75-80+ in my adolescence, and already 66 when I was born. Her having been born before the Wright brothers first flight in 1903. And then seen space flight. And then a man on the moon. Little things like that. (Unless of course you believe that the moon landing was faked, but that's a whole different story...)

The article I read got me thinking about the dramatic leaps forward in my 40+ years. The thing that makes me chuckle the most when I think back on it is the simple telephone.

Back in the day it was a simple telephone. A heavy metal black rotary phone that hung on the wall. I believe those phones were actually owned by the phone company. The phone company was the Bell monopoly, prior to the breakup into the baby Bells. And our phone number was KI3-xxxx. The "KI" stood for Kingswood, which was the leftover "exchange" from the time when there were actually phone operators who connected calls. "KI" is 54 in numeric terms, but I remember reciting "KI" silently in my head every time I made a call, and translating to numbers as I went. To this day, I remember that my grandparents' phone number was HI6-0337, but without looking at a phone keypad would have no idea what "HI" is in numbers. We were technically in the 215 area code, but you only needed to dial the area code if it was a long distance call. So calling friends in the neighborhood and around town was dialing a 7 digit number. And at that age (pre-teens) dialing a long distance call would have been like dialing the other side of the universe; it never happened. If you called a friend's house and they weren't there, you knew they weren't there because it rang and rang and rang and nobody picked up. There were no answering machines. You just gave it enough time for someone to get there from the other side of the house, and if they didn't answer, you just hung up. So when you were out, you were out; unreachable. Which is a nice thought actually...

It was a big deal when they needed to split our part of the 215 area code into a new 610 area code. When that happened, you also needed to dial the area code all the time, not just for long distance. And they dropped the letters entirely, and our phone number became 610-543-xxxx. Then people got answering machines. Then they invented portable phones. Then cell phones. I'd love to see a teenager today given one of those old shoebox size car phones to use.

Today my house has two land line numbers, three cell phone numbers, a work number, and all of our phones have email, internet and text messaging. I can go hiking somewhere on the Appalachian Trail, get geocache info online, use a phone app to be the gps, record my finds while out in the field, take pictures as I go, email them to friends, and write a blog entry on the trip and post it before I get back to the car. Being unreachable is impossible.

My wife and kids routinely talk to relatives in New Jersey, Oregon, and Singapore online via Skype video chat and don't even need a phone at all. And the idea of things needing wires is ludicrous. The fact that the landlines have the cordless receiver units that need to plug into the wall is a quaint idea that many have already abandoned, going entirely to cell phones and not bothering with a "house phone" at all. I suspect that number will skyrocket dramatically.

All things considered, I don't think that's too much different than the Wright brothers, Yuri Gagarin, and Neil Armstrong.

1 comment:

  1. You're quite right, those phones were owned by the Bell system (the AT&T monopoly.) As was the wiring. It took a huge court case (I believe in the 70's) to let people buy their own handsets and plug them in via a modular jack.

    Nice post.