My grandparent's phone number was 796. Just three numbers. Ours was 634R. We were on a four party line. Thus the 'R.' My grandparents had a private number. My father's best friend was 'Jolly.' Jolly's phone number was 233. I remember that because his son was my best friend. In those days when you picked up your phone a light would come on above your number in the telephone exchange and an operator would come on the line.
"Thank you, Hilda."
Times have changed some.
I used to be able to dial just five numbers to call friend Scott. Then I had to dial seven. Now I have to dial ten numbers just to call across the street. This, we are told, is progress. Somehow the computers that run the phone company cannot sort out that if I am dialing just seven numbers I mean for the call to go to a number within my own area code. I'd bitch to the phone company about this but it wouldn't do any good. Besides, if I bitched I wouldn't be talking to "Hilda" who was a family friend. I would be talking to Rosita in Manila where the phone company has farmed out all of its customer service. Rosita is happy to be getting the subsistence wage Telus pays her and doesn't care about my having to dial ten numbers to talk to my next door neighbor. Dial 'O' for operator these days and you are talking to someone halfway around the world. It is not a comforting feeling.
This is all done in the name of progress and, for the most part, we have all accepted it. Or, at a minimum, acquiesced to it with our silence. I am not saying having an operator come on the line and put your call through for you was the best way to go but it certainly was homier. It was certainly more friendly. It was nice to know that when you had a problem reaching someone or when things weren't working properly that the person on the other end of the phone line cared personally and not just corporately and you knew that 'Ray' would be out to check your line as soon as he could get to you.
We have, each of us, sold or souls and our rights to corporate America in the name of a progress that is dubious at best. They have paid us in the currency of isolation from our neighbors and from ourselves. "Progress" these days is little more than a code word for "increased profit."
Progress isn't always forward. I wish people could remember that.
(Originally posted to Multiply July 24, 2008)