February 28, 2006

Press 666: reach out and touch what?

The other day I read that after 150 years, Western Union has stopped sending telegrams. Apparently such an "outmoded" means of communication has gone the way of the pony express. Fortunately for ponies, there remain thousands of little girls who want one as a birthday gift.

I haven't seen a yellow telegram in at least 25 years -- high school graduation, perhaps? Twenty years ago, in Paris, I sent a telegraph to a friend in London. In 1985, that was the most expeditious way for me to communicate across the English Channel, since I lacked access to what was once called "directory assistance."

The operators who supplied directory assistance here have long since been declared obsolete by the various companies that supply telephone service. There are so many companies, they make me long for the days of Ma Bell.

The need to select a telephone carrier is one of those choices that I could live without. Since both electricity and cable TV are provided by the building in which I live, I have not had to weigh those exciting options -- and I hope never to need to compare and contrast those utilities.

Survey question: does anyone believe that, short of access to the White Pages web site, the computer chip and its accompanying "press six for more options" phone-punching voice are a great improvement over human beings?

Or is there agreement that after figuring out the numbers behind 1-800-WHERE-AM-I?, you are more in need of help than you were before you tried to telephone for it?

Voice mail options are to be found in Dante's sixth circle of hell, or perhaps the seventh. If telegrams are history, so, I suspect are Telexes. In the 1970s, I received countless Telexes from my father in New York while I was in Europe. All the hotels had Telex addresses.

My father's office had a Telex machine. When I was abroad, he would type and send notes to me. It is as close to a keyboard as he ever needed to get in his lifetime. The Telex mostly was used to communicate with our businesses outside the U.S. Sometimes, it was used to reach me.

I still have a few Telexes, those messages telling me to have fun wherever I happened to be, and not to worry that my parents had moved my mother's father to a nursing home, or that business sucked. I don't think any of those messages would have the same resonance via phone or e-mail.

I am certain that the message regarding my father's business was Telexed accidentally to me, as the receiving machine was one operated by a Parisian with whom my father did business.

Did Jean-Pierre read the part of the note intended for him? I am not sure. In May, when I am in Paris, I will ask. I doubt if he remembers correspondence from the summer of 1977, but that Telex gave me a peek into my father's world that he had never mentioned to my mom, brother, or me.

My friend from London has relocated to California. This past weekend she was in New York, and we had a wonderful brunch last Sunday.

Alice realizes that it is a function of high tech to have a blog. This is a point in technology's favor. Still, there are many points against it -- when did you last receive an actual letter, or even a postcard? "Wish you were here" simply doesn't come through via e-mail or electronically generated postcards.

A printout isn't worth 1000 words.

In the early days of consumer e-mail, my first address was my father's Telex name, a play on our family name. I became hotdog@fill-in-the-blank.com. If I didn't conduct business via the internet, I might have continued to honor my gadget-loving father's memory. These days my blog is alice.uptown@gmail.com, and I have another, more business-minded address for my other correspondence.

I'm still waiting for that pony.

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Blogger Janet said...

Part of me thinks it's great we've become so self-sufficient in so many ways, but another part of me is scared by this, too. Ironically, the more we come up with as people, the less there will be for people to do. It's a surreal and frightening concept.

Not to the pony, of course.:)

7:05 PM  
Blogger scout said...

What you said, with one caveat: The computer-chip voice that runs the numbers game on most customer service lines is still superior to the computer-chip voice on voice-activated phone directories that says, "I'm sorry, I didn't understand your request. Please state X again," over and over and over again.

My partner and I have this whole fantasy scenario wherein the stray cat we feed runs a telegram office that our indoor pets use to communicate with the outside world. Our pets, of course, think telegrams are quite the cutting-edge technology.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazingly enough, I occasionally receive a note via snail mail from one of my blog friends (or her mother). Take a bow, Buffy!
Cop Car

10:31 AM  

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