The dial comes to town

Hey, remember when you got your first smartphone? It was full of gestures other weird stuff you needed to learn. Remember the first time you sat down at a computer with a mouse? It was the same thing. You had to learn a whole new way of interacting using this weird little box.

Turns out that technology has always been hard for people to get.

Here’s the proof

Folks, YouTube literally has everything that has ever been recorded. Or so it seems, sometimes. This film, called “The Dial Comes to Town,” was made by the Western Electric company to help people get used to making their own phone calls.

Se, before dials (which are no so obsolete that two whole generations don’t understand them) people would pick up the phone and say to the operator, “Connect me to Bayside 4, 6264.” That’s just how they did that stuff. With this new tech, people could interact directly with phones. What a trip it must have been.

What we learn from this film

This film was made in 1940, according to YouTube. For those who are counting, that’s 81 years ago. For some of you, maybe you were just babies. Maybe your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents were just babies. But the folks who made this film, all the people who starred in it too, are long gone. This film is their legacy. What do we know about them?

We know that people had much longer attention spans in 1940. Can you imagine a 20-minute video on how to use a phone, made today? The mind reels. (see what I did there? Reels?) We know that film actors were taught to use a very specific accent. You might think of it as the “old filmy” accent. At the time they called it a Boston Brahmin accent, even though real people from Boston didn’t sound like that. This specific accent, with a tendency toward sharper, crisper pronounciation and higher pitch, reproduced well using the microphones of the day.

We also learn that our fight to understand technology has gone on for many lifetimes. There were no movies or even recordings in the 1740s, 1840s, or whatever, but you can bet that there were struggles with technology back then. It wouldn’t be surprising for me to find out that half the heiroglyphics found in pyramids were actually tech support documents. (Seriously, I made that up. But it’s not impossible.)

You can even imagine…

Think about caveman days, and one person showing another person how to use a rock to crush something. I mean, yes, it seems kind of self-evident, but there was probably the equivalent of a full-day training on it.

And speaking of which, we do make fun of this film because it’s 20 minutes long but think about your own life. How many times in the last year have you gotten sucked into a meeting on how to use some aspect of remote technology. And despite all of that, half the time you end up shouting “YOU’RE STILL MUTED” to the screen, vaguely hoping that Linda from HR learns how to use Zoom before everyone’s head explodes.

Just sayin.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.