Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Precambrian PDA Era


Just the other night, I was listening to the Tim Conway, Jr. show in KFI as I was driving home, and Conway alluded to some ad or comic strip of a man sitting on a bus, reading the ingredients of a shampoo bottle.  The inanimate bottle says to him something like, "Looks like you forgot your cell phone, didn't you?" mocking the man’s boredom. The piece made light of the measures we all used to take to keep ourselves occupied when having to wait out some of life’s less exciting moments during the pre-iPhone (or name your favorite device here) era. 

And as a slight tangent, it reminded me of the fact that sometime after I graduated from university, but before I got a full time job, that I worked for a courier service that serviced mostly escrow companies in West L.A., the Palisades, and the Hollywood Hills.  We (drivers) all had our Thomas Guide maps as expected for the time and had mastered the motion of flipping of pages from city quadrant to city quadrant in order to find roads marked in font so tiny that I would in no way have a chance of deciphering them nowadays without reading glasses. 

The way that the drivers communicated with the dispatching office was via old, black, crackling two-way radios.  Yet, as I was starting my part time driving at this company, the pager phenomenon had just been born into the world.  A lot of the older drivers wanted no part of it and kept to their radios, but me, always having been tech fascinated (I won’t go as far as calling myself tech savvy), I opted for the new belt-clipping pager.  Yeehaw!  To be contacted simply through the air somehow. That really was amazing to me at the time!

However, this meant that in every instance I finished a delivery, I had to make sure to have coins on my person to call into the dispatch office from a pay phone and let them know that I was "clear" or whatever our term was at the time.  Then I'd sit around in my car waiting for my pager to go off maybe eating a bran muffin with some juice and listening to the news on the radio to pass the time.  One gets very good at understanding the Los Angeles traffic patterns in this type of work, and so KNX traffic reports were an essential part of my hourly diet.

The nightmare, of course, was when an address was wrong or merely impossible locate, such as in the serpentine roads of the Hollywood Hills. Contacting the office in this scenario often meant leaving the area in which one had been driving around lost in and finding a pay phone to get either a corrected address or proper directions.  The office then often had their own difficult task of locating their client, and once accomplished, there was the drive back up into wherever it was to give it another try.  This all took a lot of time.  Had we even had the notion that something called cell phones and GPS would be arriving in the future, well, I don't know if we would have continued with all of that analogue map and payphone nonsense, but rather, would have put all of those extra coins on our persons into those future companies' stock.

And so, with all of the criticism of PDA’s and cell phones that have been made by people (myself included) who say that these devices take people’s attention away from being present to the world in front of them and interacting with real people, I do have to admit that for those times that I have to sit in the lobby of the AAA to get my registration tags completed, or when I have to wait for a client who is twenty-five minutes late (which happens about every day for me, by the way), not having to read a shampoo bottle or calculate the number of floor tiles of the room I’m waiting in sure makes life during those times a bit more bearable.