How's your memory these days? I took an online memory test and did well. That got me to thinking about what smart phones are doing to our memories.
The other day I was away from my "smart phone" when I asked for my elder son's phone number. Brain buster! I was lost — hadn't a clue. Couldn't even come up with his area code. Then I realized how dependent I had come to be my phone for numbers.
I used to be a walking phone book. I knew dozens of numbers ... going all the way back to my youth in Geneva. Growing up, there was a great deal like living in Andy Griffith's Mayberry complete with a telephone operator that came on the line to make your connection. In Geneva, our home phone number consisted of three numbers and a single letter. The drug store where my dad's optometry office was located was easy to remember. You just asked the operator to connect you with 42J.
When I was in elementary school, the phone company switched over to rotary dialing phones. Suddenly, you had to memorize your best friends' 5-digit number to make a connection. Everyone in town had a number that began with the prefix 684 followed by a four-digit number. Things started getting more complicated. Fortunately, you could just dial the "4" before the remaining four digits. I was jealous because Dothan, Alabama had two prefixes ... 792 and 794. And in those days the entire state of Alabama was covered by a single area code, 205.
We were over at our friend Rex Roach's house and he played a recording of what you heard when you made a long distance call. It seemed like it took at least three operators getting on the line before you were finally connected to any far-flung location. It was a complicated process.
And then there were those times when we headed back to college after a weekend at home and needed to let our parents know we had arrived unscathed. The way I remember it, you would place a long distance, person-to-person call to yourself, at your parents' home number. When one of them would answer... the operator would say something like, "Person-to-person call for Bob Howell." Your parent would say, "He's not here." Then the operator would ask if you would like to speak to someone else ... to which you would say, "No, I'll try again later." Your parent would hear your voice, which let them know you were back at school ... all done without a long-distance charge. I have to believe the operators knew we were doing this but just kept helping our poor college students and their parents.
Speaking of college, when I was attending Troy State I lived for a couple of years in Dill Hall. This was well before individual phone lines were installed in dorm rooms. If I remember correctly, there were two pay phones on each of the dorm floors for use by students. When the phone rang, it was up to whoever was nearby to answer the phone, find out the room being called, walk down the hall, knock on the door and announce the call. I remember living next door to the phone booth on the north end of the first floor. We got a lot of exercise walking up and down the hallway notifying the guys of waiting calls.
I also remember the phone company threatening to remove the phones (other than the one in the dorm director's office) if the guys didn't stop making pay phone calls for one cent.
One of the tricks involved using a piece of cardboard and somehow making the phone think a dime had been dropped in the coin slot. If we had just put as much effort into studying!
By the way, the phone company never followed through on its threat to take out the phones in Dill Hall ... and we kept walking the hall, hollering out to our dorm-mates when they had a call waiting.