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World of wondrous connectivity

It was in 1953 that Mark R. Sullivan an executive of Pacific Telephone in USA had said “Just what form the future telephone will take is, of course, pure speculation. Here is my prophecy: In its final development, the telephone will be carried about by the individual, perhaps as we carry a watch today. It probably will require no dial or equivalent and I think the users will be able to see each other, if they want, as they talk. Who knows but it may actually translate from one language to another?” Seemed like a fairy tale at that moment but not only that but much more has come to pass since that telephone executive in USA expressed his views on the future of telephones.

Not many of us remember the pre-smart phone era and how difficult it was to communicate with each other. To start with just acquiring a telephone connection was a Herculean task. This required your best connections in the telephone hierarchy and yes the installation and subsequent operation of this priceless gadget depended on your goodwill with the linesman, the person who ensured that not only your gadget worked but the line which connected you to the outside world was also unbroken and without stuttering noises that forced speakers to ask their friends to repeat their words a hundred times before finally grasping their meaning. Words did not just disappear in thin air to magically arrive in the telephone being addressed but travelled through telephone lines which worked more or less like our present power lines and of course carried the same risks of damage and falling down during inclement weather. The whole system was controlled and managed by the government so of course there were bureaucratic delays in restoration of your telephone after a major rainfall event and it was helpful to know the concerned persons in the telephone department for such restoration. Even more important and fruitful were such connections when seeking a new telephone connection. This is something everyone dreamed about and there were such stories circulating which pointed out that a certain person applied for a telephone and his application was only considered after he passed away and the new connection was awarded to his heirs.

Having a telephone connection was both a blessing and a nuisance in those days. Most people kept their telephone connections hidden from their neighbors, but the telephone line going into their homes usually gave them away. Once it was established that you had a telephone you were bombarded by requests to use it. Those were times of simple living and watching budgets and each call was charged so most people were reluctant to allow neighbors to use their telephone. It sometimes caused bad blood between neighbors who reminded the telephone owner of past favors and how after he or she had acquired a telephone connection their whole attitude had changed. For the more obliging telephone owner it was mostly incessant knocking on the door with neighbors using different excuses to use the telephone. The proud owners of telephones in those days also had to put up with frequent ringing of their telephones and requests by the caller to call one of the neighbors who must be informed of an emergency. In Jacob Lines for example the residents lived in barracks converted into residences so each house had a number and those with telephones would be requested to please call “12 number wali Khalajan” and others identified by their home numbers and each caller would impress upon the telephone owner the gravity of the situation and how critical it was to talk to that person immediately. Some telephone owners driven to desperation would put locks on their telephone. Yes this prevented anyone from dialing but as we know there are geniuses in our society so someone came up with an idea to tap the receiver on which the phone rested and if you tapped in a certain way and rhythm you could dial bypassing the system. Long distance dialing was not a privilege for all. One had to apply for it and that too would be granted after a lot of running around. Once you had long distance dialing you had to be on your guard 24/7. Most people, even if they allowed you to call dialed the number themselves just to ensure it was not long distance.

The present generation will never understand how difficult it was to make a phone call a few decades ago. Today you just dive into your pocket and pull out your mobile phone to get connected with not only your friends and relatives locally but around the world. Much more than what Mark Sullivan had predicted has happened and new developments keep coming to connect the world with many more wondrous ways of instant connectivity.

Zia Ul Islam Zuberi, "World of wondrous connectivity," Business recorder. 2023-05-06.
Keywords: Social science , Pacific telephone , Telephone connection , Telephone hierarchy , Telephone , Mark Sullivan , USA

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