How to use your phone

In just a little over a week I’m going to start a new job at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago.  I’m thrilled, but I right now I have a lot of work to do before I leave the Des Plaines History Center!

I thought I’d share a few things that we have around DPHC while I have still have the chance.  First:

I want a wireless candlestick phone that can also connect to Wikipedia.

I’m sure that someone will figure out where this cartoon came from, but I don’t know offhand.  It has been hanging up in the copy room at work for more than five years.  It even survived the purge I did about a year ago of what I called the “wall of shame” full of embarrassing photos and weird junk we had copied.

I found this related article in one of the books on our reference shelf.  “How to Use a Telephone” was written by Angus A. Hibbard, the general manager of the Chicago Telephone Company.  The article comes from the book, “Looking Forward: Life in the Twentieth Century As Predicted in the Pages of American Magazines from 1895 to 1905” By Ray Brosseau.  I have to admit that when I first read this article I thought it was sort of ridiculous.  Then, after slowing down and taking the time to retype it in its entirety, I realized how fascinating Hibbard’s insights are.   The article suggests that on an intellectual level people understood the concept that phones allowed two people to communicate with one another across great expanses, but when it came down to the physical act of communicating via this new technology, the result was sometimes comical.  The last section of the article demonstrates how, once people did get the concept of the telephone and could use it with some ease, it could be a very powerful tool.  Today there are few times when we can call someone on the phone and get as emotional a response as the example in Hibbard’s article, and I think that’s ok.  In any event, reader, enjoy!

How to Use a Telephone
By Angus S. Hibbard

The man who knows how to use a telephone properly is comparatively a rare personage, and the observance of a few simple rules and suggestions in relation to telephone usage would accomplish, for any busy man, a great economy in money, time, and vital energy.

The telephone has done more to lay bare a latent strain of belligerency in all mankind than any other feature of modern experience, and this element offers the greatest obstacle known to the universal success of telephone operation.  But this attitude is not the only abnormal development attending the act of telephoning. A man refuses to recognize plain physical conditions that would be apparent to a child in the primary grades.  What man of affairs would willingly give a second audience to a caller who turned his back to his host and directed his body in a direction away from him? Yet the majority of business men keep their faces a foot or more from the telephone and turned away from the instrument.  To expect satisfactory results under such conditions is preposterous.  The lips should not be an inch away from the rim of the receiver and the voice should beat squarely upon the drum to which the little “sound hopper ” leads.  Give a telephone instrument a “square chance” and it will do its work, unless radically deranged or defective.

This, however, is not the main difficulty.  It is only the symptom of the disease.  Lack of mental focus is the real trouble, both in talking and hearing—or, in telephone parlance, in transmitting and receiving.  If your thought is not concentrated on the transmission of your message you will not make yourself heard or hear what is said to you. This is where a failure to realize that you are holding actual conversation is apparent.  No person understands this phase of telephonic trouble better than the operator of long-distance lines, where conversation are important and comparatively expensive, and time is limited.  He knows that, in case the two on the line do not readily her each other, he must make each realize he is not talking into a hole in the end of an iron arm, but speaking int the ear of a man.

Sometimes it takes a sound shock to effect this focus of mental faculties.  Once, when hard pushed, I resorted to a desperate expedient, which demonstrated this point with indisputable force.  That was several years ago, when prominent men were not so accustomed as at present to use the telephone.  They generally delegated the task to their assistants—a practice now much in vogue in England, where it is well-nigh impossible personally to engage the head of an establishment in telephone conversation.

But in case of calls on the long-distance wires the conversations were generally of a confidential nature.  Therefore the “parties,” although not thoroughly accustomed to using the telephone, must be made instantly to understand each other, despite the added disadvantage of the “long range.”  At that time I was in charge of certain long-distance lines in the East, and was called upon to engineer a conversation of the utmost importance between a Baltimore capitalist and a Boston financier.  Time was an essential in the transaction, which involved thousands of dollars.

The Boston man seated himself at the instrument, in my office, and waited for me to get the Baltimore capitalist properly started.  At the first sound of the latter’s voice I knew he was “not there,” mentally speaking.  Then I resorted to the usual expedients to impress on him the realization that he was talking with a person instead of at an inanimate object.

“Don’t hear a word!  This thing is—” he was saying.

“I’m not a thing, Mr. Smith,” I interrupted; “I’m a man, about thirty years old, prematurely bald, with dark hair and gray eyes.  I can hear you because I know you’re a real, live man doing business with your voice, right now.  I can hear you because I’m thinking right to the point and you’re that point!  Now listen to Mr. Jones.”

But still I heard an irascible repetition of: “Can’t hear! Can’t hear! Better give the thing up and telegraph.  No use trying this old thing! It’s no account.  I tell you I can’t hear a word!”

Meantime my Boston man was growing restless and excited.  Every moment was of great value in the affair.  Turning to him I said:
“If I were to tell Mr. Smith that he lies he’d learn how to hear every word you say in one second.  Shall I do it?”

“Yes,” was the quick response; “and I’ll square it completely, later.”

Very clearly I spoke into the receiver the words:

“Mr. Smith, you lie!”

“What’s that, sir?” came the instantaneous answer. “You call me a liar?  Why, I’ll, I’ll—”

“You will understand,” I interrupted “that I mean nothing of the kind only that you do hear distinctly every word I say and you are proving it.  Now listen, quick, to Mr. Jones!”

He had no difficulty in hearing the Boston financier and the day was saved simply because he was shocked into realizing that he was not talking at a thing, but conversing with a man.

Women are keenest to grasp the personality of the invisible conversationalist.  A phone is not a dead thing to them.  They bow and smile into it and even stop before the mirror to touch up their hair when about to answer a call on a telephone in their own rooms.

Only a few days ago a man in Chicago decided to give his wife a novel surprise on her birthday anniversary.  He arranged that, at a certain moment, her mother, whom she had not seen for years, should be at the long-distance telephone office in Philadelphia and should call up the daughter in Chicago.  There was a telephone in the Chicago house and the husband answered the prearranged call.  Turning from the instrument he said to his wife:
“Helen—here’s your mother on the wire in Philadelphia.”

The wife seated herself at the instrument and heard the familiar voice of her mother.  It uttered one word: “Daughter!”

Suddenly the young matron in Chicago gripped the instrument and poured out her heart in response: “Oh, mother! mother!”

Then, as she heard the sob that came over the wire from the aged mother, she answered in kind, still keeping the receiver at her ear.  Speaking literally, those two women cried to each other until the tolls amounted to fifteen dollars.  Later they both said it was the sweetest experience they had known since their long separation began!  Nothing could more effectively demonstrate the sympathetic possibilities of the telephone or better illustrate the vital point of realizing the personality behind the voice.

2 thoughts on “How to use your phone

  1. kludge

    what a wonderful find… even to this day, i frequently feel as if my telephone interlocutors are talking to a thing and not a man.

    and congrats on the job!!!

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