Saturday, May 27, 2006

WATS line

Who uses it: Telecommunications experts and managers
What it means: Wide Area Telephone Service, a service that allows unlimited calling from or to a particular number within a given geographic area.
How you can use it: As a rather old-fashioned way to describe an 800 number.

Of all the technological advances we take for granted, long-distance calling may be the least glamorous, but the most impressive.

When I was a child, calling long distance was a big deal, and very expensive. Not every town offered direct-dial service; in some areas, you still had to arrange a long-distance call through an operator.

When I went to St. Petersburg and Moscow in 1992, people still went to the post office to place their long-distance calls, and if you wanted to make a transoceanic call, you had to book an appointment.

What changed all this, for better or worse, was cellular telephone technology. My cell phone service plan makes no distinction between local calls and long-distance calls; for one flat rate, I can talk to someone in Augusta or someone in Los Angeles.

This is mostly a great thing, I think. If anything is bad about it, it's that we may be losing our appreciation for the distances that remain between one place and another. I can drive from Maine to Washington in a single day, though it's 600 miles; so I do, and it wears me out. I can have breakfast in Washington and lunch in Los Angeles, and I do that with some regularity as well -- and then I wonder why I'm so damned tired.

I won't say it was better when it took a day to go from Gardiner to Augusta, or four days to go from Richmond to Washington (if you made good time). But I think our expectations of ourselves might have been a little more reasonable back then.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Had a fond memory of sitting in my dads office at, the now defunct, butler aviation terminal at o'hare airport. The memory was he would say "time for the watts line" and i would pick up the phone and the faa would answer. Dad would then file his flight plan.... Thanks for the definition...