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September 1, 2014

Long Distance

Filed under: Main — Tags: — admin @ 12:01 am

The words would strike terror into your hearts. “It’s long distance!” It was important! It was urgent! It’s now a thing of the past.

I remember answering the phone years ago, when I was a little kid. It was from some relative, some great aunt or someone whom I didn’t immediately know. “Hurry, Danny! Get your mother! Tell her it’s Auntie Maude and I’m calling long-distance!”

Panicked, I ran across the house screaming, “Long distance!” It must have been some sort of emergency for the caller to resort to such a drastic and desperate means of communications.

Today, of course, long-distance means nothing. I’ve not seen a cell subscription plan that charged for “long distance” calls in about a decade. Mostly they’re included now as part of some campaign to sell phones. Not having a landline phone any longer, I’m not even sure if they have long-distance plans or not. Heck, you once needed to have a separate long-distance carrier. Talk about weird.

Years ago, the telephone company made buckets of money by selling long-distance phone calls.

Yes, before the 1980s, the US had only one phone company, the Phone Company, AT&T. Sure, some locales were misfortunate enough to have GTE instead of AT&T as their phone provider, but that was rare.

Long-distance was defined any call out of your area. Where I lived in San Diego, it was a call to La Jolla, which was only about a 40 minute drive away. So while local calls were a flat rate, a call to La Jolla would incur a per-minute charge.

Calls out of state were even more expensive. That’s why there was some sort of urgency regarding a “long distance” call, it was expensive! People would — and I’m serious — resort to sending letters or even driving by car as opposed to making a regular, long-distance call. Not that the call was really that expensive. No, the stigma with long-distance calling was more cultural than a serious economic burden.

I’m rather pleased that long distance is no longer a thing. Especially given how mobile the country has become. In fact, just because the area code on an incoming call isn’t local doesn’t necessarily mean that person isn’t calling from across the street; people keep their original cell phone numbers simply because they can. And thanks to built-in address books, no one bothers memorizing numbers any longer. The system works.

Still, I remember how the phone company tried to upsell long distance calling back in the day. Yes, they made a ton of money with those per-minute charges. “Reach out and touch someone” and “It’s the next best thing to being there” were common slogans. The advertising featured Grandma and Grandpa and a clutch of cute kids. Why not make a long distance phone call now?

But today, such things are history. In fact, just try to tell someone you call elsewhere, “It’s long distance” and imagine their face scrunching up in some kind of puzzled bewilderment. “Yeah, so?”

2 Comments

  1. “Today, of course, long-distance means nothing. I’ve not seen a cell subscription plan that charged for “long distance” calls in about a decade. Mostly they’re included now as part of some campaign to sell phones. Not having a landline phone any longer, I’m not even sure if they have long-distance plans or not. Heck, you once needed to have a separate long-distance carrier.”

    I think AT&T still charges extra for long-distance calls which is completely stupid given how most of the people on cell phones you’ll meet have a “long-distance” area code. It’s been too long since I looked at that and I too don’t have to worry about that since even though we still technically have a landline, it’s a VoIP line with the cable company and we get free long-distance calling. That means I can call one of the ten remaining dialup BBSes left in the world for free 😛

    Comment by linuxlove — September 1, 2014 @ 7:45 am

  2. That’s pretty cool that BBSs are still around.

    Comment by admin — September 1, 2014 @ 7:51 am

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