Most of us can probably remember back to a time when a particular piece of technology that we now take for granted seemed stunningly new, oddly exotic and perhaps beyond our given talents for competent management. I'm old enough to have had to "learn" the computer instead of simply having grown up with it. Hell, I had to "learn" the typewriter when I was twelve. More recently there have been i-pods, Final Cut Pro and TIVO to name just a few things that I've had to figure out. Jesus, my parents still haven't "learned" e-mail...

Going back in time, we can sympathize with the people (mostly dead now) who had to struggle with some of our earlier technological miracles--hooking up the VCR, working the xerox machine, dealing with the microwave. All of these things--though commonplace now--clearly required a leap in the thought process, a change of point-of-view, a bold spirit willing to invest in the rapidly changing world.

But dialing a telephone? Seriously? Weren't telephones self-explanatory? Apparently not. Below I've posted one of the most seriously strange, absolutely fascinating pieces of film you'll ever waste seven minutes watching. It is, literally, a step-by-step instruction manual on HOW TO DIAL A PHONE NUMBER. It dates back to June 1927, when apparently the old way phones worked--I believe you simply jiggled the receiver and told the operator the number you wanted to call and she connected you--became a thing of the past. The new-fangled telephones actually had this hot little gimmick--a dial with circles which corresponded to numbers (one to nine) which--if you paid strict attention to this how-to movie--could be mastered (with practice) to allow you to dial your own phone number, sans that pesky operator.

What's weirder here? That people couldn't figure this out for themselves? Or that at least half of the people reading this right now probably are to young to EVEN REMEMBER DIAL TELEPHONES (the push button ones came in the late seventies I believe...)
That the ability to work a dial telephone wasn't simply a naturally acquired skill--like walking, swallowing or rolling over in your sleep--is truly baffling to me. But the good people at the phone company needed to make the below instructional film to explain this mind-bending new technology.

One of the things I love about this spooky old piece of film is the lack of music--it's "muteness" is part of its antiquity and charm. The fact that the newest visual technology (film) is being used to explain the newest audio technology (the dial phone) is awfully cute. But the lack of sound (no cute music) gives the whole enterprise an oddly sincere, somewhat somber tone. Although you may be tempted after the first minute to move on, stick it out for the full six more minutes. Every time I watch this clip, I find myself slipping more and more into the world which produced it; the twenties was a time of fast-paced change which--like all fast-times--now appears charmingly slow, genteel and downright puzzled by things that we not only now take for granted but which--like the dial telephone--are now outmoded to the point of non-existence.

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