Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mr. Watson and his ring

I'm yoked to Google. Steven Kingish thoughts of being subsumed into my Mac have flickered through my brain. Why? I'm reading Bill Bryson's book- At Home: A short history of private life. The book is full of bits of teaser information about interesting characters you must look up. Help, I can't stop.

For instance, Mr. Thomas A. Watson, Alexander Graham Bell's assistant and colleague. "During the seven years he worked for Bell, he secured sixty patents in his own name including the one for the distinctive ringing bell that was for decades an invariable part of every phone call made. Remarkably, before this, the only way to know if someone was trying to get through to you was to pick up the phone from time to time and see if anyone was there." Quote is from the Bryson book. 

Imagine a phone without a ring? How preposterous it seems - but then today's kids couldn't imagine a car without a remote control to lock and unlock it, to locate it in a parking lot, turn on the lights, turn on the car seat warmers and open the trunk.

Reading further I found that early phone calls did have a Watsonian sound associated with them. Before the bell there was Watson's buzzer and before that Watson's thumper, a kind of metal hammer. Neither was very satisfactory. It took the bell to pull everything all together.

Watson was able to retire rich at 27 and spend the rest of his life doing anything he wanted. He studied geology, earned a pHD, searched for gold, started a shipyard, converted to Islam, got interested in elocution and took up acting. Shakespearean roles were his forte and he performed many times at Stratford-upon-Avon.

I think Watson would be well pleased to hear the wide variety of ring tones, including the loud amplified classic telephone ring, his ring, coming from pockets and purses all over the world.

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