Saturday, July 28, 2007

OT: speaking of new technology

Not anything to do with Pittsburgh, but it fits with the theme of how new technology can be confusing. Via Adfreak comes this link to this old public service announcement explaining the use of newfangled rotary dial telephones.


Related phone trivia: Until not too long ago, the occupation that was most concentrated in Pittsburgh was not steel workers or related, but phone operators (remember those). Pittsburgh had an inordinate concentration of international operators for decades. I even remember when using AT&T Direct service from overseas would always get you an operator in Pittsburgh. You could chat for a few seconds about the Steelers or the weather back home with them.

Rotary dial phone would beget area codes which would be assigned in order of population. The lower numbers generated less pulses in the system and it made sense to assign the lower numbers to more populated areas... sort of an early bandwidth engineering problem. Thus NYC, LA, Dallas all have area codes starting with 2, Chicago Detroit, St. Louis have area codes starting in 3 and Pittsburgh's started with a 4. If they were just doing this today, I guess we would be a 9.

Others may remember when the "1+" prefix was not needed locally. If you were calling another area code, the switch figured out how many digits you were dialing by looking at the 2nd digit you entered.. If it was a zero or one it figured you were putting in 10 digits (i.e. with an area code) vice 7 (without an area code). That worked until they started running out of area codes and needed all those numbers without a 0 or 1 as the 2nd digit. I swear Pittsburgh must have been one of the last places to put in place the "1+" prefix requirement because I remember visiting elsewhere in the country as a child and people wondered why I had a hard time dialing. Makes sense right? Everything gets implemented here last.

and according to the Carnegie Library, the first commercial Picturephone call was made in Pittsburgh by Mayor Pete Flaherty on June 30, 1970. Whom did he call? The Chairman of the Board of Alcoa of course. It was predicted there would be 100,000 such phones in service by 1975, and a million by 1980, but it was not to be and by 1974 all Pittsburgh subscribers had been disconnected. You can read more in a paper with a great title: On the Persistence of Lackluster Demand: the History of the Video Telephone. Yet, even in failure, the picturephone would beget video teleconferencing that would come...

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A gracious hello,

Just had this thought the other day. Phone customers used to lease those old rotary phones. Those phones lasted for decades. In fact, I still use one.

But now we have to buy cellphones, which have a usable life of three or four years.

Don't get me wrong. Deregulation has brought many wonders, although I do miss Ernestine

Eventually, we might no longer have visible phones, but information clouds that are filtered by user protocols. I'm game for anything except those strange looking earpieces.

Saturday, July 28, 2007 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

actually I don't think they would sell you a phone even if you wanted and you probably were not allowed to use phones other than the ones 'leased'.

my second favorite WKRP episode is where Johnny Fever feared for the "phone police" after he smashed a phone while at the transmitter. I can't find a youtube clip.

Saturday, July 28, 2007 12:36:00 PM  

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