Please Hang Up and Try Again

30 April, 2008

This afternoon I heard something that I had not heard in at least a year—a busy signal. It was less the fact that heard it that surprised me, and more the fact that I had not noticed that it was missing from my life. (Not that that’s a bad thing, of course.) I figured out that the only way I could have heard that was if there was no one home at the number I was calling, and the answering machine must have already been taking someone’s call. (Or that there were two calls already going through, but I called again afterwards and got the message, so I assume that’s not true.)

So then I got to thinking about why I hadn’t heard a busy signal in so long. I realised it’s because everyone has cell phones now, and even if they don’t, most people have call waiting. So you either get a person or voicemail, and you never don’t get either. It’s weird how quickly we’ve gotten used to this instant connectivity. That’s technology, I suppose. This is also presumably why no one really knows each others’ numbers anymore; they put it into their phone once and never have to dial it again. I used to know all of my friends by heart, and now I can hardly say the area code of any of my friends at school. I still know the numbers I learned before my cell phone, though; maybe it’s tactile memory.

I was watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 the other week, and they were making fun of a short film called “Century 21 Calling,” about Bell (I think?) Labs’ presentation at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. This was off-and-on hilarious (it kind of dragged for being a short), but it was interesting to see what they saw as the future of the telephone. All the modern features—call waiting, speed dial, and so on— were actually there, but they were activated either by people or by punchcards inserted into the phone. Weird stuff. But it all happened (with some advances in user interface, of course).

Finally, two things that annoy me about phones.

1) In movies, when someone is making a phone call, and the person on the other line suddenly hangs up (usually because they’re angry, kidnapped, or killed), it makes the dial tone noise. THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN!!!!! When the other person hangs up, there is a click and then silence. No dial tone, nothing. After about thirty seconds the little noise comes on saying that you should hang up, but no dial tone. There has been one movie I have seen EVER that has done this right. Awkwardly, I can’t remember what it was, except that it was a very mediocre movie otherwise, but that little fact made me like it a lot more. And the dial tone appears in far too many movies to just be an accident. Maybe the dial tone is more dramatic? I don’t know.

2) When you dial a number outside your local area code, but you forget to add the 1 in front of the number, the phone tells you. If it knows that you need the one, then it knows where you’re trying to call. Therefore it should just connect you there. Seriously. I’m sure there’s some technical reason for this, but it annoys me to no end. Cell phones do it automatically, so should land lines.

Those are my two cents about the telephone industry. What does a payphone cost nowadays? It used to be 35¢… Well, if it still is, which I doubt, those are my 35¢ about the telephone industry.

(Also, incidentally, you can always tell where a person is from by whether they say mobile or cell phone. If it’s the former, it’s most likely the UK.)


One comment

  1. The reason the old phone cumpanies say to add the 1 before the area code is not technical, but operational. The phone companies do not want to maintain what are called ‘routes’ from and to new switches that are installed, so to make THEIR LIVES EASIER (cause they don’t do anything to make ours easier) and because the unions crush them into higher pay for less work, they make the dialing party enter the 1 so they have less operating expense and they can just pass the whole number to the phone system for routing automatically.

    I remember it used to be you could just enter the 7 digits, then it went to the full 10 digit then adding a 1. The cell phone companies don’t make you dial the 1, why do the incumbent phone companies? Old vs. new. Monopoly vs. hungry for new business. Incumbent vs. competitor.

    There is a silver lining to this: It forces us (especially the geriatrics) to remember to do this and that keeps our brain muscle working instead of getting old too quickly.


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