Sunday, November 20, 2016

Dialing For Dollars

I remember when they broke up the phone company. "Ma Bell," as we referred to her back then, was broken up into little "Baby Bells," tearing asunder the monopoly held at the time by American Telephone and Telegraph. You may be more familiar with this behemoth as AT&T. That was back in the 1980's, and suddenly the world of telecommunications was a wide open frontier. You may remember a period of time when you carried around a little card with your MCI number on it so that you could make long distance calls for ridiculously low rates. Lower than those "other phone companies" were charging, anyway.
Ah yes, those were the days, when calling someone in a different area code required the dialing of dozens of digits. I have an expressly visceral memory of hanging out in the phone booth at the end of my freshman dorm hallway calling as many regions as we could recall using the number 867-5309 with someone's purloined MCI account. There are certain experiences that set in stone exactly what times we lived in, and that was one of mine. Add the 3.2 percent beer that fueled this clever bit of chicanery, and you could probably determine just how sad and lonely we were. Those were indeed "the days."
Those days were also a long time ago. Long enough ago that AT&T has re-enveloped most of the baby bells and is now poised to engulf and devour as much of the cellular telephone business as it can ingest. Monopoly isn't just for board games anymore. While it may seem as though we have plenty of choices, there really isn't such a thing as a local mom 'n' pop phone company that will hook you up and lower your monthly bill. Back in another time, my wife and I paid used Working Assets as our long distance carrier. We did this for the same reason that socially conscious folks with a sweet tooth steer their shopping carts to the Ben & Jerry's section of their frozen foods aisle. As long as you're shoveling in that tasty dessert, why not toss a cherry of smugness on top of your self-loathing?
Now it's 2016, and the idea of dialing long distance looms in the specter of those three extra digits you have to add on the speed dial of your smart phone. Would it be any cheaper to call your mom, seven states away, than it is to text your friend sitting across the room? Should it be?
Someday soon, Disney will buy AT&T and my life will be complete. I just hope I can remember my number to get into the Magic Kingdom.

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