Granddaughter Brigid spent her break from the U of Chicago with us, even though her MA thesis was due the day she got back. We left her alone as much as possible, so she could complete that thesis, but she is our tech person, so Grandma had her change the ring tones on her phone so that each of her frequent callers would have a distinct tone. That way she can know who is calling just by the sound. I wanted a quack sound for my ring, but Helen vetoed that for fear it might go off in the Crazy Horse bar and get her thrown out.
Young people probably think this business of distinctive ring tones is some new thing that came in with cell phones, but it’s old hat. When I was growing up, each of the 14 families on our “party line” had a distinctive ring.
Our phone was a wooden box on the wall, with a crank out the side. You cranked once to get “central,” the operator in town, who could connect you to any other phone in the world—if you had enough time and were willing to pay enough—and you cranked some other number and combination of “longs” and “shorts” to get another family on the line.
We were the poorest family on the line, the only one without a car, the only one on welfare, the one with the smallest acreage [five], but there was one way in which we were superior to everyone else: we had the coolest ring tone. Perfect symmetry, two longs and two shorts.
John Robert McFarland
1] In one of his routines thirty or so years ago, dead-pan comedian Stephen Wright said: “I couldn’t find my socks.” [Pause] “I called information.” [Pause. Some laughter.] “She said, ‘Look behind the sofa.’” [Pause, laughter really building by now.] “She was right.”
It was hilarious, in a way it would not be if he tried to do it now with Siri, because Siri is general information. It’s reasonable to ask her anything. But “Information” was specific information—telephone numbers. It was ludicrous to ask her anything else. Siri is really just information and would say, “I have found four sock stores within five miles of you.” Information said, “Look behind the sofa,” because she was a real person.