Progress. I love progress and am strongly in favor of it, especially when we are progressing backwards. Kind of like technological time travel as gradually, by adding more and better high-tech devices, stuff that used to be simple and problem-free becomes much more complicated, difficult and expensive. The techno-version of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Remember? We could make telephone calls without worrying whether or not the person on the other end could hear us. Without wondering if we would be able to understand them. That was so cool, wasn’t it? You didn’t have to shout into the phone, wasting half the call yelling “Hello? Are you there? Can you hear me? You’re breaking up. Can you hear me? Hello?”
You could have an entire conversation, from the beginning to end without getting disconnected, losing the signal, running out of battery. Getting dumped out by your carrier. Nobody said “What” even once! Unimaginable, isn’t it? I grew up and in my entire childhood, I do not remember ever having to ask “Can you hear me?” We could always hear. Sometimes, a long distance call had an echo, but you called the operator and they put the call through, no charge. No problem.
We’ve come a long way, my friends A long and winding road.
The other night, my husband and I watched — for the umpteenth time — Meet Me In St. Louis. It’s the old Judy Garland musical. Vincent Minnelli directed it. Great movie, one of our favorites. Terrific songs, Margaret O’Brien about as cute as a kid can be. Nostalgia on the hoof.
The story is set in 1904 when the World’s Fair was coming to St. Louis and telephones in private homes were still the hot new technology. A long distance call from a far away city was a very big deal. Early in the story, the oldest sister Rose gets a long-distance call from New York.
The phone rings.
* * *
Rose Smith: Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?
Warren Sheffield: Yes, I can hear you. (Pause)
Rose Smith: What did you say, Warren?
Warren Sheffield: Nothing. I was waiting for you to talk
Rose Smith: Oh. Well, did you want to discuss anything in particular?
Warren Sheffield: What?
Rose Smith: I said, was there anything special you wanted to ask me
Warren Sheffield: I can’t hear you, Rose
Rose Smith: That’s funny. I can hear you plainly
Warren Sheffield: Isn’t this great? Here I am in New York and there you are in St. Louis and it’s just like you’re in the next room.
Rose Smith: What was that?
* * *
The next day my friend called.
Me: Hello? Hello? Cherrie?
Cherrie: (Faintly) Hello? I’m in New York … (something I can’t understand) … signal.
Me: Bad signal?
Cherrie: No signal.
Me: How are you?
Cherrie: Tired. Running around.
Me: Miss you.
Cherrie: Miss you too. Having trouble getting a signal here.
Me: We watched “Meet Me In St. Louis” last night. Remember the phone call from New York? We’ve gone back there. Worse. THEY had a better connection.
Cherrie: (Laughter.) You’re right.” (More laughter.)
Me: I don’t think this is progress. (Long pause.) Cherrie? Hello? Are you there? No, you aren’t there.
(Click. Sigh. Pause. Ring. Ring.)
Cherrie: Can you hear me?
Me: I can hear you, can you hear ME?
Cherrie: Hello? Hello? (Pause, faint sounds.) Is this better?
Me: Yes. A bit.
Cherrie: I turned my head and lost the signal. Boy, was that perfect timing or what?
Me: We couldn’t have done it better if we’d scripted it.
Cherrie: I’ll call you when I get back. I think I’m losing … (Silence.)
* * *
As I said, I love progress. I most particularly love how advanced technology has made everything so much better. And easier.
- Margaret O’Brien (letsgoseethestars.wordpress.com)
- Hooked On Houses (hookedonhouses.net)
- No tears today for ’40s child star Margaret O’Brien (miamiherald.typepad.com)