If you don’t remember what that line is from, you’re clearly in a different age bracket than me. That’s okay. Consider today a lesson for you: part history, part economics, part pop culture.
There used to be one phone company. I don’t mean cell phone provider. I don’t mean phone manufacturer.
There used to be one way to talk to people and that was the corded telephone at your house. Your service came from some form of Bell Telephone (Southern Bell, Michigan Bell, Bell Atlantic). Your telephones were typically “rented” from Bell.
Your telephone became your fashion statement. You had princess phones, trimline phones, rotary dial phones. You could get them in different fashionable colors like avocado green, or beige, or even red, if you felt so daring. Take a look at some of the choices below.
See the phone on the left that looks like it was in a wooden box? We had that one. It was a rolltop box. Very fancy. And the Mickey Mouse phone? Every kid wanted that one. But my favorite was the brown one in the middle with the rounded handle. It just oozed the ’70s. It would have looked great with our shag carpeting and gold appliances. I could put on my satin shorts and rollerskates and life would be grand.
But alas, Ma Bell broke up. You might have heard something about it. From your parents. AT&T went its own way and the whole telecommunications system evolved into the great, big competitive mess we have today. Can’t complain though. It’s what brings me to my point today.
Clearly, I am a bit nostalgic. I love remembering things from my childhood. And one of the things I remember is my mother taking a “long distance call” and waving us children away as if she was on the phone to the President of the United States. I guess it’s because you could spend half a paycheck on a single long distance call.
We lived in Southern Maryland at the time (re: the middle of nowhere) and actually got a special Washington, DC phone number and line installed in our house so that it wouldn’t be long distance to call my grandmother or my dad at work. The monthly cost of the phone and the line was apparently cheaper than the outrageous per minute fee you paid back then.
All of this came to mind yesterday as I wrapped up a one hour long distance call with my brother. And I do mean long distance. He lives in Hangzhou, China. Just 30 years ago, I doubt I would have been able to talk to him at all. I’m sure I would have had to…what is that called again…oh yeah, write a letter. Par Avion, of course.
Today, I have a cell phone plan that eliminates long distance. I have Google Voice. I use video chat. I do Skype. I also use Vonage – a low monthly flat rate for a VoIP line with unlimited domestic long distance and ridiculously cheap international long distance. Maybe 2 cents a minute?
My brother and I were reminiscing about how an hour long conversation to China and how it was probably cheaper than a 10 minute call back in the day. I reminded him of how 15 years ago he called me collect from China. COLLECT. Remember that? A 20 minute conversation cost me $55.00. Drop in the bucket.
Just 10 years ago, I had to take a business trip to Nice, France. I know. My life is hard. I had just gotten engaged to the love of my life and we missed each other terribly. During my layover in London, I called him on my calling card. You’ll need to look that one up if you don’t know what I’m talking about. I erroneously thought that I had signed up for an international calling plan. I say erroneously because I returned home and found that I had a $500 phone bill waiting for me.
Those were the days.
Now, we text, email, tweet, chat. Sometimes we write. However, my brother reminded yesterday of the value of a phone call. Not the approximate dollar value but the value of hearing someone’s voice. It reminded me that it’s hard to be away from home and family. Emailing quick notes and pictures are great but it’s also important to remember to stop and really listen. To hear what’s going on in someone’s life and to let them know that you care.
That’s my PSA for today. If you get a chance, reach out and touch someone today.