Grandma & Grandpa's Farm

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Long Distance Over Time

Message fer ya sir!

Communications has come far in a short while. Of course short is sort of hard to define. I keep thinking that I was a school kid not too long ago and here that was around 40 years ago.

In any case, when I was a kid in the 1960's way back in the 20th century people still got telegrams! Albeit we used phones and had long distance calling. We could call across oceans though even a call across a province or state wouldn't have the clarity of a call across the city. We also wouldn't need an operator for a call most places in the city. I think that for a while at least we did need the operator to call long distance. Definitely we were tied to the wall with wires. Some people more than others if they tended to stand and pivot while talking. Cordless phones didn't exist and while there were the very rare "radio telephones" the emphasis was on "radio" and not "telephone".

With the radio telephone ypu called a radio operator and they dialed the phone number and patched you through. You couldn't just talk into the telephone handset because you couldn't talk and listen at the same time - there was a switch to press to talk which turned off the earpiece. It also had limits to its range, though my uncle used it in pretty remote places... Come to think of it, I don't think there's cell phone coverage in those places yet.

Many home phones were actually built into cubbyholes in the wall in the kitchen because there only was one phone in the home and it was owned by "the" phone company. It was illegal to attach non-phone company property to the lines. There were other phones for office desks and affluent people had "princess" phones in their bedrooms. Most all phones had dials rather than pushbuttons. Only ten digits all in a circle.

Getting back to the telegrams - people still used them for a few reasons. I know that families dreaded them because a telegram almost always was bad news. Normally it told you that someone dear to you had died. It was used for important communication over long distances because - I guess - the long distance phone service was unreliable and might be misunderstood. Telex systems were around for business correspondence and there were computers in the truly major companies. They used punched cards, magnetic tapes, magnetic drums, and some even magnetic disks. When I learned programming in the mid 70's we still used punched cards, though terminals were around.

The other thing with long distance calling was that it was expensive. A call from Grandma and Grandpa in Manitoba was an event! We lived in Calgary, Alberta at the time - a distance of around 1000 miles away and few people flew. It almost seems that long distance calls back then were as common as flying is today - not quite but it felt like it.

Today, you can make long distance calls anywhere in Canada and the US for as little as 3 cents a minute or even - if you know how to subscribe - unlimited long distance for between $3 and $17 a month! Then there are the Cell phones which allow people to talk from nearly any halfway civilized place. Of course they are meaning the demise of the pay telephone just as very cheap long distance has meant the demise of the telegram. (Well there are other reasons too.) And then there is communication by computer: you can correspond with email; chat live via instant messenger; talk via messenger or VOIP; or even visit using Video and Audio. Virtual reality is nearly here if it isn't already on a limited level.

I already regularly have video conversations with friends in other hemispheres without any worry about costs. Sometimes we have conferences with more than just two of us.

So, from expensive poor quaity long distance telephone calls from phones hard wired to the wall to video calls without toll charges to other hemispheres... it has been quite a ride.

I joke sometimes with my friends about sneezes heard around the world.


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