Did you know that my hometown of Hatboro, Pa., was serviced by two phone companies in 1908? Bell Telephone oversaw everything east of York Road while the Keystone Telephone and Telegraph handled everything to the west. And interoperability between the services was non-existent – for folks with Bell to call folks with Keystone they needed a Keystone phone (and vice versa). As a result, many businesses kept phones from both companies on the premises.
That’s one of many neat factoids I discovered in the Images of America book Hatboro, a terrific stroll down history lane that I received for Christmas.
The times have changed, and are ever-changing: This week my niece Paige turns 18. If my math is right, that means she was born in 1995, the same year that ordinary folks began logging onto the Internet en masse. Prior to that, proprietary services like AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy existed and, similar to 1908 Hatboro, to send an e-mail to a pal meant that he or she needed to be on the same service. There could be limits on top of that, too. In 1991, for example, Prodigy began charging users 25 cents an e-mail after 30 missives a month.
Granted, my history of the Internet is nowhere near complete – see this Wikipedia entry for something more thorough. But the growth and use of the ‘Net was the first thing I thought of when contemplating how day-to-day life has changed since Paige’s birth. This past week I was felled by a virulent flu, for instance, but was still able to go to work – as I’ve done on other occasions, I telecommuted into the office. For me, that means sitting at my computer in my den beside a window that overlooks a squirrel-populated tree. On Friday I noticed two squirrels grooming each other – something I’d never seen before. Curious if it was a new phenomenon, I performed a quick Internet search that led to a rather voluminous page on all things gray squirrel. The little critters do indeed groom one another, it turns out, especially during winter. In mere minutes I confirmed something that 18 years ago would have entailed a library trip.
Here’s another change: when I left for Happy Valley in 1985 to complete my college education, I brought along a small boombox and maybe 10 percent of my music collection – a few dozen pre-recorded and homemade cassettes. The cream of the crop, if you will, of a collection that I painstakingly curated through trips to the Hatboro Music Shop, Memory Lane Records in Horsham and Third Street Jazz in Philadelphia. Contrast that to today, when I’d be able to cart all of the 4,441 albums that make up my and Diane’s current collection on an external hard drive (I encoded everything we had a few years back, and now routinely rip everything we buy) – or simply rely on Spotify. Anyone can amass an instantly incredible and deep music collection, these days, without leaving one’s home or spending much money. (As Irv Homer used to say, it boggles the mind.)
Cell phones were around in 1995, of course. Mulder on The X-Files had one. But all they were good for were making and receiving calls. How quaint, huh? Now, they’re used for everything but calls – texting came into vogue in the late ‘90s, and the advent of 3G a few years later made surfing the ‘net while on the go commonplace. Hand-in-hand with that: Facebook. I access it more often than not on my desktop computer, but now our friends and family know about our weekend getaways to B&N, concerts and dinners out due to the “check-in” feature.