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The 2011 version of Mr. Bell’s invention

Moseyin’ Along

November 30, 2011
By Joyce Schenk, COLUMNIST
“The phone’s out,” son Tim called from the kitchen.

The news was an unwelcome start to the day since I was expecting a number of important phone calls. And some research I was working on relied on my computer’s connection to the Internet.

Fortunately, our live-in fix-it man, hubby George, was home for the day. I knew he’d quickly discover the problem and get us back on line.

As he methodically went from room to room, checking our collection of phones, my mind wandered back to the less-complex telephones of my childhood.

During my earliest years, families had only one phone. Ours was located in an out-of-the-way corner of the downstairs hallway, next to the cellar door. The phone was a heavy black unit that hung on the wall above an ornate table. The table’s lower shelf held the thin Ft. Worth, Texas, telephone book.

Our family, like all those in the area, shared a party line with several neighbors.

When we picked up the receiver to make a call, we first had to be sure no one else was using the line. If someone was talking, good manners — and our parents — required that we hang up quickly. In practice, however, party line calls were frequently listened in on.

Of course each subscriber on the party line had a different phone number. But often when another family was receiving a call, our phone would give a slight jingle. That alerted my brothers and my sister to the chance to eavesdrop.

Unfortunately, I was too young to take advantage of this priceless spying opportunity. And, by the time I became adept at listening in, we had a private line. Although it greatly improved phone call privacy, it left little chance for keeping up on the neighbors’ business.

When I reached my late teens, we became a two-phone family. In addition to the downstairs unit, Mom had an extension in her bedroom. It was quite a luxury.

As my mind wandered back over those long-ago telephone memories, I heard George call, “I think I’ve got it fixed.”

To check the system out, Tim and I made the rounds of the house, testing the base telephone and the two extensions, as well as the phone line connection to my computer. As expected, George had solved the communication glitch. We were back on line.

But, even if our “land line” phones had remained unavailable for a period, we could still have made calls. Our family members, like most folks these days, carry cell phones. For us, however, these are only used in case of emergency.

Unlike us, the rest of the world seems to consider the cell phone an ever-present extension of the individual, never far from a waiting hand.

Though Mr. Bell’s original brainchild was a big and bulky piece of equipment, today’s small, fit-into-your-pocket cell units weigh only ounces. And, the modern versions do far more than simply making and receiving phone calls. Most have the ability to take pictures, send text messages and access other “apps.”

I’m certain Mr. Bell would never recognize his invention in today’s form.


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