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Hold the phone! (03/05/2014)
By Frances Edstrom
Now and again, I am reminded that the building I work in every day was built in 1867. Tuesday was such a day. For some reason the phone service wasnít working, and the email was balky, too. If a person tried to call us from a cell phone, a recording told them our service had been disconnected. Thatís not good for business!

No, the problem had no connection to the age of our building. It was the 2014 technology that wasnít working properly. It was deadline day. The reporters were having anxiety attacks, and the editor was tearing her hair out, the salespeople were in a state, and the graphics department ó the repository of the technical expertise in the office ó was up to here with telling people it was not an internal problem and they would just have to wait until it got sorted out. Luckily it was sorted out by midday.

In this day of instant communication (if it works), and same-day delivery, can we even imagine what doing business was like back in 1867, when my building held its grand opening?

I canít even imagine how I lived without my computer, my tablet, and my smart phone. I have had a barely veiled loathing of talking on the phone my whole life. I think it had its beginnings when, as the oldest of six kids, I was limited to three minutes for a phone call. The only way to have a private call was to stretch the cord around the corner and sit on the cellar stairs with the door shut. If I went over the time limit, on occasion the hook was depressed by a parental unit on the other side of the door, ending my conversation. Perhaps I associate telephones with frustration.

On the other hand, I love to write, so when email and texting on cell phones became a possibility, I became a master communicator. No busy signals, no bothering someone in the middle of things, no phone calls for money. Itís the greatest thing ó no, even greater ó since sliced bread.

I think of the person who sat in my office back when this building was new. The view from my windows on Second Street would have been much different. Buildings would have faced us, not parking lots.

There were no telephones then, of course. If a person wanted to do business, it had to be done either in person or through the mail. If your business was urgent, you had to put on your walking shoes or jump on your horse. The late Rip Streater, longtime Winona attorney and also not much of a fan of phones, would let a phone ring and ring and ring. He said that if a person really needed to see him, heíd have to come to the house. Now if someone you donít know comes to the house, you start dialing 9-1-1.

There were no credit cards; business was done in cash or by bank check. Sometimes my grandchildren will ask for a quarter for a candy machine, and I find very often that I have no money at all with me. Back then, what wasnít in your enormous wallet was back home under the mattress.

Itís tempting to think that life back in 1867 must have been more leisurely and happier than in todayís rat race. I could have sat in my office and spent time thinking about nothing (which my co-workers believe is what I do now), or I could have taken a snooze in the late afternoon. I could have taken the time to see who was going past on Second Street, and when the windows were open I could hear the steamboats stopping at the levee.

Wait! What would I do for heat? How about air conditioning? Indoor plumbing and instant drinking water? How would I get home? Where would I find lettuce in the winter and ice cubes in the summer?

No, Iíll be happy with 2014. Except, of course, when business is paralyzed by the phones not working and the email doesnít come when I expect it. 


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