Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Telegram is Going the Way of the Dinosaur. I Thought it Already Had.

I just read that the world’s final telegram will be sent in India on July 14, 2013.  

Why India, I wondered. And who in the world is still sending and receiving telegrams, for cryin’ out loud? 

India, evidently. 

Naturally, I had to do a little more research on the subject. 

And I found out that, yes, people in India still use telegrams to transmit information to one another.  And these are the people we’re frequently connected with when we have a problem with our modern-type computers? Yikes!

The U.S., however, stopped using telegraph services over seven years ago. Huh. I would’ve thought it was longer than that. I, personally, have never received a telegram. In my whole life.  And some not-so-nice people would say that’s been a L-O-N-G time. 

I don’t really know much about telegrams, except that they peppered every communique with the word “stop.” And the only reason I know this is from the old black and white movies I used to watch on Turner Classic Movies. I’m not sure why they said “stop” so much. Maybe whoever was taking down the information needed a break to catch up.  Or had to stop to have a smoke. (Characters in those old black and white movies smoked. A lot.)

I’m pretty sure cell phones and text messaging put the final kibosh on the Samuel Morse invention.  And I wonder if they use Morse Code for anything anymore either?  Instead of dots and dashes we just use acronyms and emoticons?

That makes me think about other inventions the world lived with until something newer and better and more modern came along. 

Like the abacus. 

I kid.  I’m not going to go that far back in history. I’d be here for the rest of the millennium writing about outdated inventions.

But, no, I was thinking more along the lines of newer inventions. Take the fax machine, for instance.  We’re using it less and less these days since more and more businesses use email systems to scan and transmit information.

I used to marvel at the changes my now-deceased grandmother had seen in her lifetime. She was born in the early 1900s and television hadn’t even been invented yet.  Her household didn’t have a telephone. I believe they actually had running water and indoor plumbing, but that wasn’t the norm.  Cars had only just started production and it would be years before families would own one car, let alone two.

My grandmother was in her 50s before she took her first trip by airplane. Back then it was a major event and air travelers got all gussied up to fly the friendly skies.  Fortunately, airport security back then was a little more simple.  No one put passengers through full body scanners or patted them down or made them practically strip to get through security. Those travelers would’ve been horrified. Back then men wore suits and hats to a family barbecue, for pity's sake. And women wore dresses, stockings, hats and gloves to go to the market.

Hmm. I’m sure it was a simpler time, but I’m sort of glad I wasn’t born back then. I can’t imagine having to wear stockings and gloves to go Krogering.

But even in my lifetime, I’ve seen a lot of changes. The first TV I remember was black and white. We had to change the channels manually and we only had a couple channels altogether. No cable. No DVR. If you missed a show, you were out of luck.

Our telephones were attached to the wall and started out as rotary phones.  We finally “modernized” when push button phones came out, but in our house, there was only one phone and it was still firmly attached to the wall in the kitchen.

Through college I used to hand write letters to friends and family. Not surprisingly, I had a lot to gab about and frequently wrote six-page letters.  Talk about writer’s cramp.  Yeah. Nowadays that would be called BlackBerry Thumb or Carpal Tunnel syndrome.  Or maybe they even have a newer name for it since I think the BlackBerry is going the way of the party line.

Haha. Isn’t that funny?  Young readers wouldn’t even know what a party line is! 

Actually, I think party lines were even before my time – or at least before I was allowed to talk on the telephone.  All I remember is dialing the seven digit number of the person I wanted to speak with.  Local calls were permitted, but long distance calls in our house required written approval from both parents and a promissory note to repay every penny of that expensive long distance call.  Consequently, we blurted out only the pertinent details and hung up as quickly as possible.

When I was in high school, I took a shorthand class. Not because I intended to ever use it for work purposes, but because my friend Diana and I wanted to have a secret method of communication where no one could crack the code. Well, unless they, too, had taken a shorthand class. 

I wonder if anyone still uses shorthand? I can’t remember any of it anymore, so it pretty much looks like a bunch of squiggles on a page to me now.

I also took a typing class. On a typewriter.  I don’t think I was even in high school yet. My dad had a manual typewriter at home and it was a way for me to earn a little spending money by typing chemical abstracts on that manual hunk of metal. It took me forever to type those ten lousy abstracts every month. But back then I thought ten bucks was a lot of money, so I stuck with it until I left for college.

When I was a student at Ohio State, I worked for a few hours every day in the Metallurgical and Chemical Engineering offices. Hey, I knew how to type those hieroglyphic-type equations, so I was pretty well qualified. But we didn’t even have copy machines back in the late 70s/early 80s. We used mimeograph machines to make copies of exams.  Which meant that the exams had to be typed on mimeograph paper and, if you weren’t careful, your skin would be stained purplish blue from the ink transfer. And If you made serious errors, you had to start all over again. There was no backspace or delete keys to help you out.

My generation talks about the changes in the way we listen to music. We used to have record albums and then 8-tracks and then cassettes and then CDs and then whatever non-tangible form music has evolved to in order to get it on my iPod. Which I don’t have anymore because I have an iPhone and and iPad. And I’m sure that mode is quickly becoming antiquated, if it hasn’t already.

Personally, I think it’s getting harder and harder to keep up. Many folks who are a generation ahead of me gave up trying a while ago.  My parents, for example, don’t even own a computer – and they don’t want one. They reluctantly agreed to carry a cell phone but only in case of emergencies.  It is not a smart phone because they wouldn’t know what to do with one.  Heck, my mom still doesn’t know which button to push to answer the thing if it rings.

So – like the telegraph, we all become obsolete eventually. I imagine us as 90-year-olds talking about cutting-edge Bluetooth technology, while young people roll their eyes and say, “Bluetooth hasn’t gone the way of the dinosaur yet? I thought it already had.”

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