The Herald Bulletin

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Columns

January 19, 2013

Jim Bailey: Communication was a different ballgame back in the old days

In an era when it seems as if everyone in the world is wired and in communication with everyone else, old-timers recall when it was a whole different ballgame.

If you carried a gizmo of any sort with you, it was more likely a watch – probably a pocket watch. My first pocket watch cost a whole $3.99, I think. You had to wind the stem to keep it running. My second watch was stolen about a week after I got it, removed from its chain connected to my pocket knife on my classroom desk while I was a phys ed.

Kids spent their after-school hours playing outdoors. Parents didn’t seriously worry about their kids being harmed out in public, although they preferred to know where their kids were at all times. Occasionally someone disappeared or was snatched somewhere, but we didn’t hear about it instantly the way we do now with Amber alerts and such.

If we were wanted at home, we were summoned by a yell or a whistle (Mom had a referee’s-type whistle since her pucker was less proficient) or told to get home by the time the street lights came on.

Cellular technology was a futuristic dream. Most homes had a single land-line telephone, usually on a party line. If the party we called wasn’t home, we got no answer. We didn’t know who was calling until we heard the voice at the other end. If we needed to call home, we looked for a phone booth, and we’d better have a nickel to pay for the call.

Most kids walked to school in those days. If they lived too far away to walk they took a bus if they were lucky enough to have one running their neighborhood. Until it got too cold, the doors and windows of all the schools were wide open. If a parent or someone else with business at the school wanted to visit they just walked in and quietly contacted the teacher or administrator or student they wanted to see without disturbing the educational process more than necessary. The idea of someone committing mayhem in a school building was the farthest thing from everyone’s mind.

For more sophisticated communication there was the telegraph office. Western Union telegrams came on yellow sheets of paper with the message pasted on strips laid across the page. As for written communication, people actually sent letters. There was even a phenomenon called a round robin letter in which longtime friends would forward communiqués from everyone in the loop to the next person on the list.

The primary form of entertainment was radio. Later television supplanted the audio medium. And most kids went to the movies on Saturday afternoons.

Who would have dreamed about today’s Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging, and that the e-mail phenomenon would already be obsolescent?

Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.

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