Theme Thursday: A Knell for the Bell

This is the first time I’ve participated in Theme Thursday, but I was drawn by the story behind this week’s theme.  On Thursday, Barry of An Explorer’s View of Life is celebrating his last chemo treatment by ringing a bell long and loud.  You can read about it and join in to make a joyful noise for him here.  Congratulations, Barry!  I’ll be hopping around madly at 2:00PM today, “ringing my bell” for you!
And now on to my offering on the theme of the week: Bell.

The Bell Family
Back in the day, when I was a kid, people who wanted to talk to each other called on the telephone.  You remember (or geez, maybe some of you don’t remember…), you went to that table in the hall, picked up the telephone receiver, dialed the number for your friend, stretched the cord to its limit to go into the hall closet, and chatted until Dad yelled at you to “Get off the phone!” 
A little later, there might have been an extension on the wall in the kitchen, not such a good thing if eavesdropping was a family pastime.  We all learned that if you unscrewed the cover on the speaking end of the receiver and popped out the little thingy inside before letting go of the button to open the line, they couldn’t tell you were listening on the extension.
Then, even later, if you were lucky, you had an extension in your bedroom.  And for many girls, it got even better.  Their parents took the path of least resistance to keep the house phone open just in case (unlikely as it seems) someone actually called to talk to them, and gave their daughters their own line.
If you wanted to make a long distance call, you dialed 0 (on an actual round dial) and a friendly female voice greeted you.  She would make the call for you.  My first job out of high school was to be one of those friendly female voices, sitting on a switchboard with 49 other friendly female voices (this was in Miami; lots of people made long distance calls) wielding those long cords like an expert.
Back in the day, all this was made possible by the Bell Family, known as American Telephone & Telegraph (or AT&T), which consisted of Ma Bell, and her seven Baby Bells.  

The Divorce
And then the day came when, as so many families do, the Bell Family broke up.  Judge Harold Greene, representing Uncle Sam, presided over the divorce and ordered the dissolution of the family.  The Baby Bells were sent out to fend for themselves.   The seven little Bells gave themselves new names and marched boldly (well, OK, some of them staggered) into the future.  And for many of us, service got worse.  The costs got higher.  And you have to buy your own telephone, for heaven’s sake!
One by one, the Bell offspring have been disappearing, gobbled up by the merger monster.  Southwestern Bell, PacTel, and Ameritech were the first to go.  Then BellSouth followed.  Bell Atlantic and NYNEX were next.  And then there were three, one of whom has taken back the old family name, AT&T.
But even these three are mere shadows of their former selves, from back in the day.   One sold off its landline business several years ago.   The others have watched the landline business evaporate as more customers switch to cell phones.  The handwriting seems to be on the wall. 

The Bell Is Silenced
There are probably no teenagers dragging the phone into the hall closet these days.  84% of them have cell phones, according to a leading research company.  (Shockingly, they also say 22% of children aged 6-9 and 60% of “tweens” aged 10-14 own a cell phone.)
The friendly operator has gone the way of the dodo bird.  I’m not sure what happens now if you dial 0.  I can’t test it out because I don’t have a land line.
Sure it’s progress.  But, I don’t know, somehow it’s sad. 
So long, Ma Bell.  I’ll miss you.


  1. Those were the days... sadly, I missed 'em completely on so many counts. It's totally awesome to relive it, to relearn it, through your eyes and your words.

  2. "Like Ma Bell, got the ill communication..."


  3. My how things have changed. Welcome to TT!

  4. I agree. The break-up of Ma Bell may have been good for "competition" and allowed more people to make more money from telecommunications, but the system itself became inefficient and problem-prone. It was definitely a case of too many cooks spoiling the soup.

    Welcome to the TT party!

  5. Happy First Theme Thursday. Excellent post!

  6. Everyone: Thank you for visiting and for your comments.

    Willow, Roy & e: Thanks for the welcome!

    Ti: Someday, I hope we can sit down with a glass of wine or something and talk. I'd love to visit days you were living while I was in the hall closet (however many light years apart).

    Jeffscape & Roy: That's "progress," right?


Thoughts? I would love to hear from you.