The Telephone

When he was in elementary school, The Curmudgeon recalls, a representative of the phone company – THE phone company, there was only one in those days – came to his school every year to teach his class about the telephone. These were the later years of the rotary phone era, and the class learned how to dial, how to answer the phone, and how not to use the phone as a weapon with which to bludgeon their siblings. They also were told about something that would be coming soon: the picture phone, which never came as advertised but finally arrived more than forty years later but in a form no one imagined in the mid-1960s. In third grade, The Curmudgeon recalls, he and his class walked ten minutes to a phone company facility just down the road from his school, where they were given a tour of switches and more wires and cords than any of them had ever seen.

switchboardObviously, there’s wasn’t a whole lot to learn about using the old-fashioned telephone. Cell phones, and then smartphones (and by the way: surely you have no trouble imagining how much The Curmudgeon dislikes that word), certainly changed that, and while The Curmudgeon still doesn’t have a smartphone and his success rate in answering incoming cell phone calls the first time has only recently climbed past the fifty percent mark, he’s certainly capable – well, at least sometimes capable ­– of carrying out its basic operations. It doesn’t hurt that as far as he can tell only about seven people in the world have his cell phone number, so his success/failure rate doesn’t cause too many raised eyebrows and hard feelings.

As he has noted in the past, The Curmudgeon works at home, which is a good thing, because his employer’s two offices are both more than 100 miles away and the commute would be a bear. You can’t beat working at home: the dress code’s great (shoes? who needs shoes?), there’s never any traffic between his living room and the spare bedroom in which he works, and he never needs to worry about a hungry co-worker swiping his peanut butter and banana on whole wheat out of the company fridge. The company provides him with a computer, a printer, an internet connection, a phone line, and all the toner and paper he can use, and really, what more could a boy want?

Recently, the company decided to update its phone system to take advantage of various technological advances. The new system is an internet phone system and it almost immediately looked like it would end up improving the quality of office life for a merry and hard-working staff of ten.

But it has required more learning and study than anything The Curmudgeon has experienced since his train wreck of an encounter with Accounting 001 in the spring semester of 1976.

First, the new phone arrived in the mail with an instruction booklet that The Curmudgeon needed to read just to learn how to connect the phone to the internet. When that didn’t achieve the desired result, he called the home office for more direct assistance.

digiumThen, a memo from the home office directed him to the internet and a series of eight videos posted on YouTube – eight videos! – explaining how to use the phone.

And then a conference call – the sound has never been better, The Curmudgeon can literally hear when one co-worker who has a particularly heavy hand is taking notes – in which The Curmudgeon was routed directly into the laptop of a colleague making a presentation demonstrating the phone’s various features.

And next back to the internet, where the company has a dedicated space on the phone vendor’s web site on which individual users can log in and learn about and select various options and apply them to their own phones.

Finally, to wrap things up, two cheat sheets from the home office reminding everyone how to work the phone’s most popular features. The cheat sheets are important, too, because there’s nothing very intuitive about some of those features.

All this – to learn how to use a telephone!

The Curmudgeon, moreover, has it easy: all he has to do is pick up the phone when it rings and, when he wants to call one of his co-workers, hit a single button. The sound quality is so good that he’s discarded the headset he’s used for years and simply uses the speaker 100 percent of the time. His co-workers, on the other hand, need to learn how to place calls on hold, transfer them with and without announcing who’s calling, transfer work calls to their cell phones when leaving the building, transfer their cell phone calls to their work phones when they’re entering the office, “park” some calls (don’t even ask, because The Curmudgeon has no idea what that actually means, he only knows he’s heard people talking about it), and more. Now, The Curmudgeon has one concern: every year, the company generously gives employees a few days off between Christmas and new year’s day, with everyone staggering their days off to ensure phone coverage in the offices. The Curmudgeon has never been asked to pitch in with that chore, probably because he’s more than 100 miles away from those offices. Now that he can see every phone line at a single glance and the calls could easily be forwarded to him, he’s starting to get worked up about the possibility that he’s going to end up getting company-wide phone duty for a half day this coming December.

Ultimately, learning the new phone system will be a lot like learning how to use a computer: if you try to learn it all at once there’s no way you’ll succeed but if you just wait until you need various features and learn them then, you’ll do just fine. After all, no one merged letters, imported graphics, and created custom keyboard commands the very first time they opened Microsoft Word, but eventually, you learned the tools you needed and paid no attention to the rest. And in the end, just like you realized that Microsoft Word or Word Perfect or Multi-mate (the word processing software in the first workplace at which The Curmudgeon had access to a computer) was light years better than the old, reliable IBM Selectric, the new, complicated, you-really-really-need-to-be-smart-to-understand-all-this-stuff phone system will come to be viewed as a quantum leap beyond anything you’ve ever used before.

But it sure would be nice if the guy from the phone company could come by once in a while and go through all those new features again.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Scott, (Friend of Mr. Goldberg)  On November 24, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    As Ernestine would say……..”one ringydingy…………………..two ringydingy”

    • foureyedcurmudgeon  On November 24, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      I was soooo tempted to put a photo of Lily Tomlin doing Ernestine in today’s piece…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: