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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Answering the Phone

My grandparents had a party line on their farm. This was an arrangement where six other farms shared the same telephone line. Each farm had a distinctive ring. It was amazing how the brain simply cut the noise of unwanted rings out. Our number was three short rings. If you heard a ring starting with a long ring you did not bother to listen to the rest.

Some telephones seemed to ring more often than others. The phones always rang more on births, deaths and weddings. One farm never seemed to get a telephone call. When visitors came to the farm they always asked if the phone had run for the silent neighbour.

“Put the phone down!”

The line was a `party’ line so anyone could listen in. I understand that the trick was to try to pick up the phone at the same times as the recipient of the call. This did away with the need to try to disguise an offending click.

“If you are going to listen – just stop coughing!”

Background noises could identify who was picking up the phone. The sound of a clock ticking was a give away.

When the party lines were abolished the ability to overhear conversations died away – to a certain extent. Today we are back in the realm of shared conversations. The digital phone sends messages, pictures and videos. Every ten year old is `phone literate’.

Can’t do number 16?

Just take a quick picture – and send it to your best friend. Her mother does know how to do a question like that. (Her dad is better at the non verbal questions.)

The answer is sent back. All in under a minute. This is real progress. It looks as if the party line is not dead – it just went into hibernation for a few years.

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