Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Long distance? What's that?

I was reading this article over at Monroe on a Budget, and realized - Oh my gosh - my kids don't know what long distance means! I had to explain that back when calls were sent over wires, long distance calls had to be routed, sent over longer wires, sometimes the sound would be affected by the resistance of the wires over the long trip to your ear... and it cost a LOT more.

I'm old enough to have gotten excited when Candace Bergen was shilling for Sprint, advertising their "Dime a Minute" plan for long distance calls. I remember scraping enough money together to set up a local only landline, because long distance and toll call service cost more. I remember looking for 800 numbers in the PHONE BOOK so I could call businesses from home, or the payphone. (If you're too young to know - 800 numbers are free to call, nationwide, making them good for avoiding long distance charges). My mom used to have a ham radio license because it was the cheapest way to stay in contact with her boyfriend when he they were in different colleges, and she told me that sending a telegram was one of the cheapest ways to send a 10 word message - in the '70's.

Now? I guess going over your text and data plans are the new "long distance" charges. Or going over your minutes, if you're still on a minute plan. I still remember being shocked when I got my first cell phone that I was billed for calls that I had received! Now it makes sense to me - you're using network bandwidth whether you place or receive the call - but back then it seemed like the ultimate money grab. I was used to the caller paying on a land line. Then when they introduced free mobile-to-mobile, it seemed like an incredible deal. And with Republic Wireless charging only $25 for unlimited talk, text and data in the US, all the other plans seem like tripe!

I have an uncle living in the Ukraine (long story, but he's over there teaching English). About once a week, he video chats with one of my other uncles. VIDEO. CHATS. For FREE. That was firmly in sci fi territory as a kid, and we used to think it would be so expensive once it was available. It's cheaper than a regular phone call internationally! My dear friend "Penny" is overseas - yet I "talk" (type) with her every day online.

Funny thing - digital communication has been huge for deaf people. I knew a deaf man who had a
Blackberry (the keys made it easier) and just texts everything. Back in the 90's, TTY/TDD devices (phones for the deaf) were still something that cost a fortune, had to be specially installed, and weren't all that easy to find. Now it's just as easy for most deaf people to contact others as it is for hearing people. Wild.

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