20080303

THE TELEPHONE IN OUR TIMES- From Party Lines to Star Trek

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This Day in History:

Birthdays: James Doohan (Scotty/Star Trek - STO), Jean Harlow, Alexander Graham Bell

1931 - The "Star Spangled Banner" becomes the official national anthem.

1949 - The Tucker Company goes out of business.

1991 - The Rodney King/Police Brutality incident begins.
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THE TELEPHONE IN OUR TIMES- From Party Lines to Star Trek

Today is the birthday of Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. This, of course, got me thinking about how much the technology of phones has changed in my lifetime. When I was a child we had one of those heavy, black handsets with the rotary dial and we were on a party line.

A party line, for those of you too young to know, was a shared telephone line. You could pick up your phone and hear the conversation of those who shared your line. Proper etiquette stated that you would immediately hang up and wait until the line had cleared to make your call, but, let's face it, more often than not you would listen for at least a second or two - it's just human nature! Since I was so young and not allowed to use the phone this was not a problem for me, but I do remember a few times it caused my sister (then a teenager) some anguish if she was waiting for a call from a boy!

I don't remember when we went to a private line, but I do remember our telephone number in those days. We didn't use all numbers, we used a word prefix, and ours was Murray. My phone number would be said Murray x-xxxx (the x's were the numbers). We said Murray but wrote and dialed MU-x-xxx. Now when you dialed MU you were dialing numbers, but we never translated those letters into numbers for some reason. If we had the phone number would have equaled the traditional seven numbers of a local call. Interesting, huh?

(A little aside here - do you remember the Glenn Miller song "Pennsylvania 6-5000"? Well, here's another little pop culture tidbit: Pennsylvania 6-5000 is the oldest known continuing phone number in New York, owned by the Hotel Pennsylvania since 1919 it has been in continuous use since that date. The hotel was host to many of the big bands of the 30's and 40's and inspired this song. (If you add the area code for New York (212) and dial you will still get the Hotel Pennsylvania and you will hear a portion of their famous song!) Sometime later a there was a scene in Breakfast at Tiffany's where this very number was requested from an operator, then there was the movie spoof "Transylvania 6-5000. A very famous phone number indeed!)

Anyway back to the telephone itself. I remember when phones started to come out in colors - red at first, then later we owned a pink phone! Pink, oh my, we were styling then! I also remember being very envious of a high school friend who got her own pink Princess phone with her own private line! That was spoiled in the sixties!

I remember when push button phones came out, when wireless handsets came out and then the first cellular phone technology. Of course, Motorola and others had "mobile phones" for some years by then but they were radio phones and only for the very wealthy or very important. When the first cell phones came out for the general populace they were still pretty pricey but affordable if you really needed the technology.

I got my first cell phone in 1986. The phone was the size of a woman's handbag, weighed about 5 pounds and had a base with a carrying handle and the handset was attached by a standard phone cord. The phone cost me about $2,000 and the service cost me about $2.00 a minute plus a base fee. My bills ran around $300 and $500 a month. I had a legitimate need for a mobile phone for my business, but many people thought it was an expensive toy. I believed that someday cell phones would replace land lines, but most of my friends thought I was crazy.

Today I, in fact, do not even have a land line telephone. I see no need for one. I still travel and need a mobile phone and, frankly, I don't see the advantage of the added expense of an outdated land line. Not only do I use the cell phone for calling, text message, sending photos to prospective clients, but I can connect to the internet for information at my fingertips. My phone is also a smart phone so I can write my blog posts and even upload them directly to my blogs. I can also film and upload videos to my YouTube and blogs.

What a difference fifty years makes. From the fantasy of the Dick Tracy watches of my childhood and the Star Trek communicators of my teens, the phone has now gone where no man has gone before.

And speaking of Star Trek, today is also the birthday of James Doohan who played Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, the engineer on the original Star Trek series. I am and always have been a Star Trek fan from the beginning of the series in the sixties and Scotty was one of my favorite characters. I was saddened by his death on the 20th of July in 2005 and will always think of his classic "We hanna got the power, Captain!" when I think of him. Happy Birthday, Scotty - I'm betting you've got the power now.

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