Sunday, March 1, 2009

Long Distance… huh?

I received my phone bill yesterday, and it got me to thinking about the concept of long distance.

Since my cell service serves me in that capacity, I no longer carry a long distance connection on my land line. (Yes, I’m a bit of a dinosaur insomuch as I still even have a land line, but it’s one step at a time for me in this digital revolution.) It really wasn’t that long ago that land lines were required to have a long distance carrier. And the breakup of Ma Bell generated the advertising storm of switching services and cents per minute that fueled the broadcast media and direct mail for years. And that spawned the calling cards and the “dial 10-10…” numbers.

I remember learning to use the phone as a kid. Our exchange included letters. Maybe you remember that too. Ours was “Clifford 7” or “CL7” as I learned it. Numeric references took over by the time we moved when I was eight, and I learned my new phone number as “678” as opposed to its original “Orchard 8.”

Additionally, whenever I asked to make a call, it was always met with the query: “Do you have to dial a ‘1’ first?” Ah, the concept of dialing “1” for long distance…. It’s quickly becoming a fading memory. And the thrill of receiving a long-distance call! And running to get it. “Hurry, it’s long-distance!” The arrival of push button phones was cutting edge, and the families of the cool kids had them first. I remember wondering what the * and the # were for, and was told they’d be used for ‘something someday’ although no one could define what and when that would be over thirty-five years ago. In the meantime, they seemed to simply serve as symmetric placeholders for the dial pad.

Now we can’t live without * and # and there’s no more need to hurry for a long distance call. A minute is a minute is a minute. No longer does it cost more to call across the country than across the state, and in all likelihood, the phone is ringing right on your hip or in your pocket. And so long-distance calling quickly joins the memories of “touch tone,” dialing, party lines and switch board operators.

We proceed on through the 21st century.

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