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I am not sure if this is truly a coincidence or not, but this week was both the 50th anniversary of the touch tone phone and the 50th anniversary of Dr. Who, the latter of which as you should know is closely linked to the phone. But in fact today’s topic is not Daleks nor is it a dissertation on the eleven people who can claim to have been an incarnation of Dr. Who (although I did learn this week that whenever Dr. Who bit the dust it was an excuse to regenerate him as another actor, much like the soap opera trick of sending someone into a coma in order to write them out). But I digress. No, the topic du jour is in fact the touch tone phone and there are, of course, several notable things to tell you.

1. In the era of the rotary phone, it was relatively difficult to dial a wrong number. That’s because you had to actually dial the number. In the time it took to wait for the dial to get back to square (round?) one, you had ample time to figure out your finger was not in the correct hole. It could also take as much as 10 whole seconds to complete entering the number, giving you ample time to abort the mission.

2. The keypad introduced with the touch tone era has remained pretty much unaltered over the past 50 years, except for the addition of the octothorpe and asterisk that showed up in 1968. I have already commented at length about the ‘#’ key, which is key for those of us who spend most of our life on conference calls. A word to the wise: when the nice automated lady asks you to state your name and then press #, just press #. That’s so if you drop off unexpectedly or want to discretely leave a boring call that has many attendees, you will not reveal your stupidity or lack of interest by announcing your departure by name. You are welcome.

3. Anyhow, the touch tone keypad has insinuated itself into all of our telephone devices, whether or not it makes the most sense. If you take a look at a full size computer keyboard, you will notice the number pad on the right hand side has the numbers in exactly the opposite sequence (that is, 7, 8, and 9 are at the top). Fortunately, no one has ever actually used that component of the key board.

4. For some reason on phone keys, each number still has three letters associated with it. This was originally for the purpose of a way to choose the right number prefix for the destination phone exchange. Now it has no purpose whatsoever unless you do what I do and use the letters to remember your voicemail password. Good luck with that if you are using a cellphone handset.

5. If you have a landline you are paying $2.80 every month for the luxury of touch tone service. Go ahead. Look at your bill. And just try calling them up to ask to opt out. It would be easier to opt out of income tax.


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