The Harmful Rays of the Moral Vacuum

The Harmful Rays of the Moral Vacuum
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ahoy there! Musings on the telephone.

I finally got a chance to watch the 1944 classic Meet Me in St. Louis, the Judy Garland vehicle which debuted the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." One thing in particular that struck me about the film, set in 1904, is a supporting role played by an early telephone. There is only one phone in the household, contrasted with another classic, It's a Wonderful Life, in which Mary Hatch's nosy mother gets on "the extension" to listen in to a call with her daughter's would be suitor.

In Meet Me in St. Louis, the phone is located in the dining room, much to the detriment of one of the daughters who wishes to have a private call with her beau. The father answers the phone with a stilted "hullo." The call was operator assisted, as all calls were back then. He refuses the long distance call from New York. When the misunderstanding is eventually cleared up, the daughter and her Lothario can barely hear each other and resort to yelling to each other over the phone. This was, of course, a precursor to the iPhone of today, which can barely make audible calls over 100 years later.

Interesting tidbit: Alexander Graham Bell preferred "Ahoy" as the standard telephone greeting. It was Thomas Edison who introduced "hello," likely from the British expression "Hullo!" which indicated surprise. Early telephone operators became known as "hello girls." (via Wikipedia)

My grandmother still remembers a day when her phone was on a "party line," which is not as fun as it sounds like it should be. She had to share with those who lived in the neighboring houses. She remembers clearly being able to listen in on the calls of others. She says that it was nearly impossible to use the phone, as a nearby teenage girl would constantly occupy the line. How far we've come.

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