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Don’t be a techhole: A common sense guide to tech courtesy
In the mid-20th century, in response to the United States’ rapidly expanding telephone network, executives at Bell System introduced a new way of dialing the phone. Until then, for the most part, it was human operators—mostly women—who had directed calls to their destinations.
Dialing systems had reflected this reliance on the vocal cord. Phone numbers weren’t numbers; they were alphanumeric addresses, named after phone exchanges that encompassed particular geographic areas. The Elizabeth Taylor movie Butterfield 8 gets its name from that system: The Butterfield exchange served the tony establishments of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, should you care to call them, could be reached with a request for “Murray Hill 5-9975.”
That system evolved, slowly. In 1955, AT&T—after it researched ways to minimize misunderstandings when it came to spoken phone directions—distributed a list of recommended exchange names featuring standardized abbreviations. (Butterfield 8 would have become, under that system, BU-8; Murray Hill 5-9975 reduced to, simply, MU 5-9975.) But engineers at Bell had been conducting their own research into the scalability of the name-and-number system. They had ambitions to expand the national phone network; their own research had concluded, among other things, that the country could not supply enough working women to meet its growing demand for human operators. Automation, the company concluded, would be the future of telephony. And “All-Number Calling”—no names, anymore, just digits—would be the way to get there.
Read more. [Image: Library of Congress]
How the Neighborhoods of Manhattan Got Their Names