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Talking in a circle

Advertising by Mother Bell tells us operators will announce their names: "Good morning, this is Nancy, may I help you?" This is to make service more personal, and it substantiates something I said long years ago -- that the telephone company is run by a bunch of people who don't know how to run a telephone company. Back in the days of Myrt and Gladys, telephone service was a friendly, neighborhood folksy pleasure, and Mother Bell's minions enforced their impersonal disinterest on us until telephone service needed only one thing to bring it back to sense -- personalities. Did I ever tell you about the time I wanted to telephone around the world?

Well, Mother Bell scheduled a series of advertisements that said, "Now you can talk around the world!" Thinking of Magellan and the good press he got for the first he put in, I decided I'd like to be the first person to talk around the world, so the minute I saw that ad in my magazine I dialed our toll center, at which a female-person voice came on and said, "Number please!"

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"Yes," I said. "Now, I'm on an unusual tack here, and I anticipate some resistance, but I beg your indulgence and hope you will bear with me."

"Is this an emergency call?" she asked

"Not yet," I said

So I told her I had been reading this ad in the magazine, and it intrigued me , and I would like to "put in a call around the world to . . ." and I gave her a number.

It was the number of the place across the street, and I could look in the window and see the telephone hanging on the wall. "Oh," said my voice, "that's a local call, you can dial that yourself."

"You haven't been paying attention," I said. "I want this call to go around the world."

There was a silence of some duration, and then she said, "I think I'll let you talk to the supervisor."

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The supervisor indulged me, and seemed to grasp just that it was I had in mind, and I thought she sympathized more than pitied. She did say, "Oh, I understand . . ." and gave it that rising inflection that goes with, "Oh, Boy! Have I ever got one of them things on the line!" But she honestly gave me the perfect answer, she said, "I'm frank to tell you -- I wouldn't know how to set the thing up."

"Well Frank," I said, "somebody somewhere must know how, or this ad wouldn't be in the magazine. Why don't you get to work on the idea and call me back?"

"That's not my name," she said, and when I asked what here name was, she wouldn't tell me. "It's against regulations," she said. Before her time, eh?

The next day I had a call from a man-person, who said he was the traffic superintendent, and could he be of service? I told him of my burning desire. "Yes," he said, "that's the way I heard it." Before he spoke very much I came to understand that before he called me he had already been in touch with company authorities, and that to a man they ordered him to get to me and talk me out of whatever it was I had in mind. This he began to do.

Well, I never did make that call. I could see that telephone on the wall across the way, and I whimsied about what fun it would be to see my neighbor answer its ring to be told that here I was, right across the street, talking clear around the world! The traffic superintendent got over his company-policy impersonality after a few minutes, and talking me into his confidence he said he didn't want to risk such a call because in some countries that would be relaying the service was not all that reliable.He conveyed that he doubted the thing would come off, and unless he could be sure he wouldn't try. "Besides," he said , "those ads mean you can now telephone any place in the world -- we never meant around the world."

"So you better change the way the ads read," I said.

And a few weeks later the wording was changed to "Now you can call any place in the world."

And a friendly voice will say, "Hello, this is Barbara. . . ."


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