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It's about time.
As you read this I'm probably still on the phone, wasting precious time, trolling to find a new cell-phone company. I've already gotten all the slick, four-color promotional material from the usual suspects and am now trying to nail down a company plan and get it over with. I want to get on with my life.
At one point I dialed an 800 number and a computer-controlled machine answered. Trying to sound as chirpy as a machine can, the recorded voice said I was important to it and also claimed that it was glad to talk to me.
I was, of course, denied the opportunity of telling the machine how annoyed I was that the phone company forced me to listen to a machine in the first place because the machine wouldn't shut it's computer controlled mouth. The machine then had the gall to tell me again that I was important to the company and how everyone there was tickled to death that I called and how they couldn't wait to help me.
I'd be in favor of a law allowing customers to bill their phone company for the minutes wasted on hold listening to telephone company machines. Let customers bill for all the time spent trying to go "over the wall" and escape from the voice-mail prison where “valued” customers are forcefully detained. The phone company bills us for every minute spent on their phone lines. Who should know more about the "worth" of time? Time is what they sell and collect money for.
In 1876, they say Alexander Graham Bell arrived at the U.S. patent office in Washington to patent his new-fangled telephone. He arrived four hours before a competing inventor showed up to register a similar invention.
Good timing.
Imagine if Bell first sent a telegraph message to the patent office in Washington to find out information like their hours. I wonder what the telegraph equivalent of a voice-mail prison was in 1876? You probably got a return telegraph message saying, "Your telegraph message is important to us, however all telegraph associates are busy at the moment deciphering other telegraph messages for other customers. Your telegram will be deciphered in the order in which it was received. To serve you better we ask that you chose from the following menu of options in your next telegraph message: For information on patents, please telegraph one dot, for new inventions, please telegraph one dash…
After registering his patent, they say Bell tried to sell the rights to his telephone to Western Union Telegraph Company. The asking price for his great invention was reportedly $100,000. The geniuses running Western Union laughed him out of the office.
History tells us that Charles Williams of Somerville, Mass., was the first person to have a telephone installed in his place of business. As you can imagine, it wasn't too useful at first. Since his was the first phone and all, he couldn't call anyone and no one called him. At least he didn't need call waiting or caller-ID. Williams soon had a phone installed in his house. His wife was then able to call him during the day for what is thought to be history's first telephone chats. She's also thought to be the first wife to call the office and ask her husband to stop for a few things on his way home from work.
A woman with the unlikely name of Emma Nutt became the first female telephone operator in America. You think she'd have changed her name if she knew she'd one-day end up in the telephone Hall of Fame?
Oh, I have to go! The computer-controlled machine just told me I'm next in-line for an “associate.”
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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