Remember when as kids “telecommunication” meant 2 cans and a string? Today’s tots are more tech savvy at smart phone operation than many adults. I readily admit my 9 year old grandson is more adept with his tablet functions than I am with mine.
Communications has changed so drastically over the course of a generation. There are 2 former telephone operators living in my building. BOTH were of the “plug and cord connection era” and I am not speaking of a new plug and play device to load on your laptop. I imagine them more as the fictional “Sarah,” of Mayberry fame…you remember, the operator Sheriff Andy was always asking to connect him to the sheriff’s office or maybe Aunt Bea—or the satirical “Ernestine” with her snorts of laughter and witty remarks form “Laugh In” fame. Yes, things have changed.
Speaking with both of these women recently I discovered, one had the distinction of being the final operator to ask, “Number please” before the final switch to automation arrived in this small town. The other had been an operator in Ft Worth. She shared her account of working the switchboard the day President Kennedy was assassinated. It was a day she will never forget. Even with the added trunk line designated to the presidential entourage the operators could not keep up with the call demands that day and the days that followed.
These women, and others like them, were the backbone of all spoken information exchanges. They were the calm voice when a harried first time dad dialed O for operator and announced, “My wife is having a baby!” The voice of information before there was an “Information Super Highway”—a term now nearly archaic. If you were looking for someone and didn’t know the phone number you simply dialed the operator and asked for the information. Later, the 4-1-1 designator, saved a step in the process as the answering operator asked for the city and state you were calling and redirected the call.
We live in an increasingly impersonal society. Call just about any major company and the first auto-answer directs you to choose the language you prefer the auto prompts to spout. It’s frustrating to get caught in an auto response loop making it impossible to resolve your issue. Recently I made a call and nearly dropped the phone when a “live” operator answered. I shared my enthusiasm with her and she laughed…”I get that a lot”
Technology has improved many things…made our lives easier. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if we have done ourselves a disservice by removing the human factor. I will admit I need people around me at times but I’m just a guilty of fading into oblivion staring at my phone or tablet reading comments made. And yep, some of those are from friends living in my building and only an elevator ride away. Guess I will have to add some face time to my “To Do List” which, incidentally is located in my smart phone. I’m a work in progress traveling on this journey.