Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Somebody At The Phone Company Was Clever

When I was a kid, I often wondered who invented the telephone busy signal. Did anyone think we needed to know the person on the other end was using the phone? Some genius must have thought, “You know, it would be a great convenience to our customers if we could find some sort of signal that would indicate the phone on the other end was in use.” So we ended up with the interrupted tone. Baap baap baap.

Maybe the same genius came up with the idea to have a simulated ringing tone so we would know the phone on the other end was jingling away. What we hear is not in our friend’s house, but some audio gadget at the central office. If the place we are calling has had its phone physically disconnected by some clumsy idiot tripping over the wire, we will still hear the ringing sound.

Then I got to wondering who came up with the idea of a dial tone. We could just as easy pick up the handset and start dialing, I suppose. So after a storm and it’s been out for a while, we pick up the phone, hear the rough note of the dial tone and are happy because we are connected again.

At one point, during the rotary-dial days, someone discovered that if they put a dot in the center of a dialing hole, people would call fewer wrong numbers. So simple: give them a target and they would hit the right hole for the number next to it. They also discovered that four digits were about the most people could deal with. So instead of 3757898, we got 375-7898. Easier to see, dial and remember.

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