Friday, April 19, 2019

The Ancient Era Before Cell Phones

This will sound crazy, but I actually remember the prehistoric age, the time before cell phones existed. No, really, it’s true. I lived during a dark and somber era when every type of communication required wires.

I can see your head shaking in bewilderment. And you are correct, the world was indeed a brutal place before the 1990s.

By the way, there was one type of ancient communication that did not use wires, but it did require paper, envelopes, stamps, and Postal Service employees. I won’t bother to discuss this type of communication now, since no one alive today has ever experienced it.

Back in those primitive pre-cell phone days, people were terrified of two situations: the first was being stranded when the car broke down; and the second was not being stranded when the car didn’t break down.

I think you can understand why the first situation was so awful. Imagine you’re on your way to a particular destination to meet a friend for lunch, and you’re driving merrily along, when suddenly your car makes a weird clanking sound, then it sputters, and then the engine just shuts off. You coast to the side of the road, and when you roll to a stop, panic starts to well up within you as you realize you are stuck. There is absolutely no way of calling for help because portable phones have yet to be invented.

So, at that frightening moment, you had two choices: either you got out of the car and tried to flag down a passing vehicle, the driver of which might decide to help you or might decide to murder you; or you could start walking to the nearest house to ask for help, where the homeowner might decide to help you or might decide to murder you. (The third option was to climb into the back seat, get into the fetal position and whimper, and hope when someone ultimately discovered your body, they would contact your next-of-kin.)

If you became stranded because your car broke down, it was, as we used to say in the ancient vernacular of those times, a “total bummer, man.”

However, in those days, having your car NOT break down was almost as perilous. You see, once you got to your destination, there was no way of contacting your friend to let him know you had arrived. You would go to the scheduled rendezvous point, the Oak Tavern on Elm Street, and wait. After a half hour, you would say to yourself, “Oh no, maybe he said the Elm Tavern on Oak Street.” So, you’d drive over there and wait another half hour. Then you’d go back and forth between those two places, hoping to catch a glimpse of your friend. After three hours, you would give up and drive back home.

Once you were home, you would call your friend on the land-line phone, and he would say, “What do you mean, ‘Where was I?’ We’re supposed to meet for lunch TOMORROW.”

This is why most people back then lived their whole lives in caves and mud huts and never traveled more than 100 yards from the place where they were born.

Then, as we all know from History class, that great German scientist, Gunther von Szell, invented the mobile phone (the name later Americanized to “Cell”), and people finally could live modern lives, able to travel to neighboring towns without fear of being murdered — or at least without fear of wasting three hours.

Someday, if you think you can handle the shock, I’ll tell you the incredible story of the communication method that required envelopes and stamps. Now, that was truly a primitive era in history.

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