Archive for Thursday, May 21, 2009

Change means progress

May 21, 2009

One of the big advancements coming to the area a half century ago was the introduction of the dial telephone. The Chieftain was filled with stories about the “modern” telephone system that was taking shape in the area. In those long-ago days, one of the goals was to get telephones in every home for safety reasons. That goal has been nearly achieved and, in fact, now with the advent of cell phones, most families have several available. If you carry a cell phone, you can always be reached, which is a “good news, bad news” fact.

The good news is that you have almost immediate communication. If your car breaks down or if you have problems, the phone is right there. On the other hand, you are never really away from someone seeking you out. In my case, I believe that the good outweighs the bad.

You have to be at least 60 years old to remember the old “operator” system. Every town had its “central” office. Operators, almost always women, were on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, plugging in local calls.

The system was relatively simple and very customer friendly. All you did was pick up the receiver and the operator would respond, “number please.” The caller would answer 406-J, and in a short period of time, the call was put through and the phone on the other end was ringing. Of course, the efficiency of the system always was dependent on the operator.

I’m sure there are many who would be shocked by the “party line” plan. To keep costs down, people share a telephone line with their neighbors. If there were other parties or phones on the line, each had a distinctive ring.

Jean’s family lived in the country, and if my memory serves me, had four other neighbors on the line. Their ring was four longs and a short. Now, there were some real issues with the party line. While it was economical, there wasn’t much privacy and you could “listen in” on others conversations.

The dial phone was thought of by many as a very progressive step. Others, however, saw it as a serious problem. There were those who thought that the use of the dial phone would hurt local economies. They felt that the operators would lose their jobs and that the personal touch would be gone.

We were living in McPherson in the early 1960s when they converted to dial phones. Being in the newspaper business, I heard a lot of complaints. One was that people were going to give up a phone number that had been theirs for decades. They argued that the new system used longer numbers, and they would have to contact all their friends and relatives with their new telephone identification.

It wasn’t long before the old manual operator system was just a nostalgic memory. Since that time, rotary dial phones are a museum piece having been replaced by touch tone phones. Technology continues to change rapidly, and now everyone carries a cell phone. People don’t have to be at home to accept a message thanks to recording machines. Who knows what improvements will be made in the next few decades?

The telephone is far from a new invention. It has been around since the late 19th century. I was reading where the U.S. Army had used the telephone to communicate during some of the frontier Indian Wars. By the turn of the 20th century, telephone service was available throughout much of the United States.

What was most interesting as I did some research was to note the complaints about the change. Now, it is apparent that change was good. Maybe the message here is that before we complain about change we should consider future progress. As in the case of the dial telephone, it is often for the better.


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