Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Party Line

My grandpa had no use for the telephone. If it wasn't for my grandma's insistence the only bell that would ever have rung around his farm was the dinner bell. It was in the late nineteen thirties when they finally got their first phone it was on a party line. The phone had no numbers and no dial, instead you had a small hand crank on the side of the phone which you cranked in a long or short spins or a combo of both to whatever number you were going to dial. All the phones on the party line rang with someone called anyone thus you only picked up the receiver when your ring (grandpa's was one long and two shorts) sounded. Of course a lot of people connected to the party line would also pickup and listen (and sometimes join it, wanted or unwanted) so you probably could say it was the first Internet chat line.

My grandpa only had to listen to it after supper as his farm was large and he spent all of his daylight hours outside either tending to crops or in the barn repairing the equipment necessary to farming--and something was always in need of repair. He was a religious man and suppertime was a ritual so no one was allowed to pick up the phone during that hour. He never once talked on the 'consarn contraption' ('consarn' being the only thing close to a curse word he ever used) as he knew what went on on the party line and 'nobody needs to stick their consarn noses into my consarn business!'

They lived so far out in the country electric power never made it out their way until nineteen forty six, four years after my grandpa died of heatstroke, not an uncommon way for farmers to die suddenly in those days. Grandma was of a different mindset. Her day was long and hard and her only entertainment was listening to the small, battery powered radio, her windup Victrola or listening in on the party line.

To me the Internet is much like the party line and, like the party line, can sometimes create havoc among folks. The major difference of course is folks knew each other on the party line and with the Internet you can be as anonymous as you desire. I don't think the Internet is actually bringing the world together; it is just allowing us to be as bastardly, rowdy or friendly as the mood strikes. Then again it does give us some idea that, in the main, folks on the other side of the world aren't that very much different than on this side.


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