Tag Archives: telephone

RIP TI4 and WE6

Recently on this blog, several of us got into a side conversation, remembering telephone numbers from many decades ago. I suspect most of us don’t even bother to learn phone numbers any more; we just have them programmed into our mobile devices.

The first telephone number I ever learned—I still remember it—was CL6-2808. CL stood for Clearbrook. Back then, phone numbers had only seven characters, the first two letters standing for neighborhood exchanges. The second two phone numbers I memorized were TI4-1212 (844-1212) and WE6-1212 (936-1212). TI stood for “time” and WE stood for “weather.”

As kids, we used to call Time seconds before the stroke of the Daylight Saving Time switchover, just for kicks, so we could hear time go backward or skip ahead. Childhood’s tiny thrills.

Late last night a friend brought to my attention the sad news that, after 72 years, our local phone company will cease providing time and weather, effective the first of June. Apparently, among the last areas in which Verizon is cutting these basic lifelines is the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area (or, as the recording used to say, “Washington and vicinity,” which was the first I never heard the word “vicinity.”)

My friend who shared this news said the voice recording was one of her neighbors. This makes the news all the more disappointing.  Talk about the end of an era.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. The phone company claims we no longer need a free line to time and weather, that we already have innumerable devices through which to learn if we are running late or whether to put our sunglasses or rain boots by the front door. And they’re right, we have smart phones and computers to give us what we need.  Heck, I still wear a watch.

Still, there’s something about those pre-recorded voices and the two sets of seven digits indelibly printed in our memories that will make it so difficult to usher out yet another bygone era.

Does anybody really know what time it is?

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H’lo? H’lo?

Everybody’s talking. They’re saying that nobody’s talking.

In the past week, there’s been some news and commentary about shifts in the ways people communicate. Many are giving up their land line phones in favor of cell phones and some aren’t using their cell phones at all–for talking, anyway. 

In “The Death of the Phone Call,” published in Wired magazine, essayist Clive Thompson puts the bottom line in simple terms. Today, he says, we are in “constant, lightweight contact,” following a dramatic decline in the number of calls made from telephones—especially cell phones. Essentially, we call less but talk more, but we’re “talking” via other media—text messaging, instant messaging, social media and, to a lesser extent, e-mail.

Facebook is a prime example of this constant, lightweight contact. It allows us to know what and how our friends are doing–their successes, worries, vacation plans, and cute things their kids said. We like knowing about these things, but we might not have 30 minutes to spend on the phone hearing about it.

The topic popped up a few other places this week and made me think. If I suspect my son hasn’t read an important e-mail, I usually text him that there is a message that requires his attention. If that doesn’t work, I shoot an instant message across the bow. If that doesn’t work, he gets the dreaded phone call.

It seems, by all accounts, no one wants the call.

An article in The Washington Post yesterday dug deeper into why this is so.

People interviewed for the piece cited a few reasons they don’t reach out and touch someone. Whether or not these are really why the kids don’t call, I don’t know. But, as the caller and the callee, I get it.

The immediacy of the phone call strips the callee of control. By dialing the phone, the caller is saying, I want a block of your time right now–when it is convenient for me. In contrast, texts and e-mails can be sent at the sender’s convenience and read at the recipient’s.  

Those interviewed also said they viewed calling as impolite and intrusive, “more of an interruption than the blip of an arriving text.” Another observed that answering the phone requires a certain amount of psychological energy.

To a large extent, I agree. What disturbs me, though, is a trend that appears to go along with the new communications order. The Post article also noted that people avoiding the phone are often guilty of two sins–not returning calls and ignoring invitations.

Those of us who retreat from a ringing phone are by no means excused of our obligations to behave politely. 

I don’t care what generation we occupy, how busy our schedules are, what time zones we live in or how happy we are to receive a particular call, the rules remain clear:

If someone leaves a message, we return the call.

If someone calls inviting us to something, we R.S.V.P., even if it is by text message.

Postscript:  As it happens, my son called last night, after I was asleep, to share some good news, which he received while reading his e-mail. I welcome that call, day or night.

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