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Phone-age beeps and blares

Bewilderment. That's what many Americans feel these days, after buying one of the array of new telephones that stores are selling. One Typical American we know bought the first thing that looked like a phone. He took it home and plugged it in. He spent the evening fiddling with his radio, which had suddenly begun emitting piercing metal-on-metal shrieks. Finally he picked up the phone: It had been the noise source all along. It didn't ring, it shrieked.

But at least it didn't play rock-and-roll 24 hours a day, like a colleague's. Seems he'd purchased his phone with great care and had hired a purported expert to install it. No sooner had the expert finished and disappeared than the babble of a local radio disc jockey filled the room. It was booming from, you guessed it, the new phone - even after it was hung up. For three days and nights, until Mr. Expert returned, the beat of rock-and-roll and the palaver of disc jockeys blared through the house.

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But at least it didn't broadcast his own phone calls, as happened in one apartment complex. Every time anyone made a call, what was said was broadcast from everyone else's telephone, as if they all were radios. It was a throwback to the days of hand-crank party lines, when three-longs-and-a-short were followed by a succession of clicks on the line, as one inquisitive person after another decided to listen in.

Today's massive changes in our telephone system may mean business to a broker , and higher prices to a consumer advocate. But to a lot of jes' plain folks, they mean electronic oddities and personal bemusement.

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