Analog Mind

I realized today that in this digital age, I have an analog mind. I had written a note to a friend at work complaining to her that the day seemed incredibly long and that it brought to mind lyrics sung by Joan Baez “It’s the 33rd of August and I’m finally touching down. Eight days from Sunday finds me Saturday bound.” Even though I haven’t listened to the recording in over 30 years, I could still hear her strong soprano voice. I suspect if I played the record now, I would find my analog memory true to the original. You might ask how this makes my mind analog. The reply is simple, it is the way I access the memories. My mind slides through them much as one used to dial a radio, an analog radio.

For those of you who don’t remember or are too young to know, dialing an old AM radio used to bring a shower of noise as stations were bypassed in the search for the correct frequency. Blehblehlibbleblehlibble “and folks I have here in my hand a bottle of gall stones sent to me by a listener in West Falls. He passed these stones last week as he listened to this broadcast so put your hands on the radio and feel the healing” blehvlehlibbleblehbleh “Page Two. A woman in Poughkeepsie writes in that her dog” blehblehlibbleblehbleh “and I think it is about time we did something about all those liberals” blehblehblehlibblebleh “you’re listening to WOWO in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, 50,000 watts at 1190 on your AM dial and we’re here to bring you this week’s Top 40.” Ah, at last as the Everly Brothers begin singing “Wake Up Little Suzie.” Depending on how fast you dialed, you could make some sense of the gibberish, especially important at night, in a dark car, when your mind wasn’t exactly concentrating on where exactly the dial pointer was.

Perhaps I am making some assumptions that everyone knows just what a dial is. After all, I suspect that a majority of the current generation has never seen, let alone used, a rotary dial telephone. There was no speed dialing with these babies, you had to wait until the dial had returned to its original position before dialing another. In today’s world, with speed dialing, one can call, make a dinner date, and move on to other things while a 1950s vintage caller was still entering numbers. In one regard, analog phones did have an edge over digital phones. You could dial a number without using the dial. You simply tapped the number out on the receiver button. Some might ask why, other than trying to impress someone, we would want to do that. Simple. Some phones had dial locks on them to control outgoing calls, an economy measure when there was a charge for outgoing calls. Tapping out the number got around that little hindrance.

But for some of us, our first exposure to the telephone did not involve a dial, it involved a crank. If you wanted to call someone on your party line (assuming they weren’t listening already, you cranked out the number. Our number was 727, which translated into two long rings and a short ring “RIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNGGGGGG RING RIIIIIIINNNNNNNGGGGGGG” That told everyone on the party line that some neighbor was calling us and, depending on the time of day and what was on the radio, invited anyone to listen in if they so chose. Calling outside of the party line always involved the operator. You simply held down the receiver lever and gave the crank several brisk turns. This alerted everyone else on the party line that maybe someone was going to have an extra interesting conversation and some went on alert. The operator would come on saying “Number Please.” “Yes operator, I would like “Eavesdrop 455.”

Your call was put through if the party line was not engaged, otherwise you heard “I’m sorry but that line is busy, would you like me to try again in five minutes?” Saying yes, you waited for her to call back with the connection. Long distance calls always took much longer and you normally waited for the operator to call you back with the connection. It was a treat if, on rare occasions, she kept you on the line while she tried to put the call through. “Hello Coldwater, this is Fremont, I am trying to call Central 367 in Detroit”. “just a moment” “Hello Hillsdale, I have a call for Central 367 in Detroit.” “Just a moment please” “Hello Detroit, I have a call for Central 367” And so it went until the connection was made.

In a digital world, it is amazing that we still retain the old vocabulary. Most people still “dial” a number. Yet I suspect that this will change soon as texting, tweeting and twittering assume more prominence. As it is, we no longer hear an announcer admonish “don’t touch the dial, we’ll be right back.” Since televisions no longer have a dial, such an admonition would be meaningless anyway.

Mind you, I’m not against the digital revolution. I like the fact that I can load enough old time radio shows on my iPod to keep me occupied for several weeks and I like the convenience of CDs and their play anywhere capability. Long trips are much more pleasant with a book or two on CDs. Movies and DVDs seem especially made for each other and I predict that the cineplex will go the way of the dinosaur in the not too distant future as more and more people weigh the relatively cheap rental cost of a movie against shelling out big bucks at a movie theater.

blehblehblehlibbleblehbleh “When we are dancing and you are dangerously near me, I get ideas, I get ideas” blehblehblehlibblebleh “Bei Mir Bist to Schoen” blehblehblehlibblebleh bleh “One, two, three o’clock, 4 o’clock rock.” Ah, there it is.