The year was 1874 and, as you all know, that was when Alexander Graham “Ring-Tone” Bell invented the telephone. Realizing that people were clamoring for a means to be interrupted by total strangers who wanted them to give to the policeman’s fund while eating supper, Bell had devoted years of his life to inventing “the cotton gin” until he realized that name had already been taken and went with “telephone” instead.
At first, no one could see the point of the telephone as everyone lived next door to anyone they cared about anyway and could just shout out the backdoor if they wanted to talk to them. Eventually, though, thanks to advances in equipment by Thomas “Tommy” Edison and a marketing push by [insert name of P.R. person here later after you’ve looked it up] the telephone began to catch on. Soon, people all over the United States and some other countries (like England or Ohio) had telephones right in their houses. Suddenly, contacting someone far away was no longer a job only for the post office, just pick up the hand unit, tell the operator who you wanted to talk to and bam! Get their answering machine.
Just kidding. Answering machines were not invented until much later. Before the answering machine, if you called a person (either with the help of an operator or, later, through the wonder of the dial phone [so named because it was made of soap]) and they weren’t home, it either just rang and rang or you were put in touch with the most inefficient answer-taking service ever known to man: the teenager.
You: “Leon, will you be sure and tell your mother that the extremely delicate and life-threatening heart surgery on Uncle Morris is TOMORROW at 3 p.m.?”
Teenager: “Surgery. Tomorrow. Uncle Morris. 3 p.m. Got it.”
You: “You’ll tell her?”
Teenager: “Absolutely. You can count on me.”
You: (at the funeral) “Why weren’t you there at the hospital when Uncle Morris had his surgery? I’m sure if you had been there he would have found a reason to live and pulled through!”
Parent of teenager: “What surgery?”
This was all during the Golden Age of Telephones. Which was followed by the Age of Wars of Long Distance Coverage, which was followed by the age we live in now: The Decline of Western Civilization as Brought About By the Cell Phone.
Let’s say you invite a couple friends over for a little get together and they spend the entire evening whispering to each other, missing large parts of the conversation, then getting mad if you ask them what they’re whispering about. In a by-gone age (any time before about 10 years ago), such behavior would have been considered rude, boorish and antisocial.
It’s all the teens of today know how to do. Except they don’t whisper, they text. Often with people who are in the room with them. In that by-gone age we would have chucked such rude people out on their ears. I, for one, think it’s time for a little ear-chucking.
Before Mister Bell, another man (who’s name may or may not have been Henry Morse) invented the telegraph—so named because he liked graphs in math class—and they say the first message he ever sent across the wires was, “What hath God wrought?”
He never got the answer, though, because he was out of minutes.