The happiest sound of them all

Stores would use them to process orders. It gave them the upper hand over their competitors. In those days we still weren’t yet “wired” to call someone just for a chat about nothing. It was strictly a work tool.

Social distancing is something we’ve been doing for a long time. Ever since smoke signals. I read an article from the online version of Smithsonian, about how phones and texting are distancing, rather than drawing us together. When the phone was invented in the late 19th century, it was mainly thought of as a tool for businesses to do … business. 

When it did catch on, women were apparently not aloud to use the phone initially because they would gossip and keep the line busy, according to the book Hello, Central?, by Canadian professor emeritus Michéle Martin. Remember, this is during the days when women still weren’t aloud to vote. We’ve thankfully come a few steps further today. Not many, but a few.

By the beginning of the 20th century, “phoning” each other became so popular that phone companies were proud of the fact that they were reducing isolation, and actually bringing friends and loved ones together. Women were on the phone. Men were on the phone. Even the clock was on the phone. Who else used to phone the speaking clock as a child, just to be able to use the phone? The speaking clock was introduced in the UK in 1936, and is till going strong! As a piece of trivia, the Swedish version was introduced 20 years earlier, in 1916. And the voice has always been female, apart from once in the UK, between 1985 and 2007. 

It didn’t take long though before critics started to question if this behaviour actually was damaging. Some people were afraid we would become lazy and never leave the house (welcome to reality in 2020). Others said that we would never leave each other alone, and that we would be “closer” than ever before. 

The telephone has made life easier and shortened the distances between us. With mobile telephones becoming commercial in the ‘90s, we were suddenly offered a short message service – SMS. We didn’t even have to speak to each other anymore. On our computers we had services such as ICQ, MSN Messenger, followed by Facebook. The world became smaller. We’re hanging out more than ever, all without actually meeting IRL. Close but far away. Or, far away but close? Perhaps social media has been setting us up for the pandemic we now face?

Song of the day: ABBA – Ring Ring

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