Monday, August 15, 2011

A Brief Meditation

Some blog posts are born when two entirely different things trigger the same part of my brain within a short span of time: a connection between ideas that don't obviously belong together.

Yesterday, Karen and I saw the movie "The Help," based on a book she read and I didn't. Good film, I recommend it. It's about a community of black maids and the largely useless (but occassionally decent) white twits they serve, set in Mississippi during the Civil Rights days. Real-world milestones noted in the film include the deaths of Medgar Evers and JFK. When the movie was over and Karen and I were walking out to our car, we looked at each other with the same thought: "I can't believe we were alive when that happened." The further time carries us forward, the more the view behind becomes an unrecognizably alien landscape.

With that thought still rattling uneasily around my brain, this morning my pal Mike Lynch posted a video that lit up the same neurons: a tutorial on How To Dial a Rotary Telephone. Granted, it was made to teach those at the beginning of the dial phone era, which was before my time, but it'd be just as helpful if someone like, oh, let's say my kids, were faced with one of the ancient contraptions.

Yeah, it's a familiar lament. I don't think my 23-year-old girls have ever used a record player either, even though we've always had one in the living room (it was the first thing Karen and I bought together, now hidden inside the cabinet of an antique hand-cranked phonograph, an irony I always appreciated).

No message besides the obvious. I try to watch the parade of time and my cyclic obsolesence with easy-going bemusement, because the alternative hurts. "Now children, gather round and I'll tell you what it was like growing up watching black-and-white TV with three channels!" Ooh! Better record my stories and put them in the Smithsonian now, while I can still remember them. "Here now, son, let me show you how to operate that Walkman before you hurt yourself." Thanks, old man!

"See this dusty thing here, with all these sheets of paper stuck in it? It's called a book."


Sherwood Harrington said...

"Until Saturday midnight... please make your calls in the usual manner."

I actually remember using what I presume the "usual manner" referred to was: clicking a lever to connect to an Ernestine-style operator and giving her (always, invariably her) the connection information. For my Aunt Myrt, I'd ask the operator to connect me to "South New Berlin 3-Y-5, please."


Love the instructional video, though -- thanks, Brian and Mike!

Jim O'Kane said...

1996: I had a house in Winchester, Virginia with land-line phones (remember them?) and an extra phone jack in the basement /rec room. All the phones in the house were touch-tone handsets except for the rec room's ancient rotary device.

My son had a school friend visiting one afternoon, and so we asked the friend if he'd like to stay for dinner. He said he'd have to call home, so I told him to call from the phone in the rec room.

Of course, a minute later the middle school-aged child walked up from the basement saying, "I don't know how that thing works."

This was *1996*. Rotary phones must look like telegraph keys to today's youngsters.

Postscript: had a discussion with my 22-year-old daughter and her friend the other day about how Fotomat stores worked. "So, it's like the one-hour photo at CVS?" "No, you'd have to come back after a day or two to get your film." "Why?" etc.

Brian Fies said...

Sherwood, Wow, you're OLLLLLD! My grandma was one of those old-timey operators and told great stories about the job. She stayed true-blue loyal to Bell long after there stopped being a Bell.

Fotomat! Forgot all about those; don't think I used one more than once or twice, and don't remember the print quality being good. Our local grocery store had one in its parking lot for the longest time. It was a drive-thru coffee hut for quite a while, and they just tore it down a couple of years ago because cars kept running into it.

I tell my kids they're going to have to explain Nintendo to their holodeck-using children someday. I don't think they believe me.

Mike Lynch said...

This was a fun read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Brian!

Here I am, looking at my books and DVDs and realizing that they are all ready passe. It's all digital now. Nice thing about digital: you don't have to dust it. But neither can you display it on a shelf.

Looking to the future, I think the next thing to go is owning your own stuff. What I mean is no longer will we have media on pages or pressed on discs. Content will be controlled by corporations and they will have the power to monitor its use and abuse. And they will unceremoniously yank it if there are any problems (ala when Kindle deleted all of Orwell's books from people who had bought & downloaded them for their Kindles due to a rights issue).

If I could just have my damn jetpack I would be happier about the future. OK, either that or the little bubble car that automatically folds into a briefcase!

Brian Fies said...

The problem is that, even if you could get a car to fold up into a briefcase, it'd still be as heavy as a car.

Mike said...

When I was writing questions for the local "Quiz Bowl" competition, a question in Technology asked with what device the numbers 78, 45 and 33 1/3 were associated. It was asked in six games and, as I recall, one team answered it -- after their opponents flubbed it.

Oh well, never mind. The numbers weren't important.

Walter Underwood said...

I prefer the 1927 silent about using the dial telephone. Great lettering.