Monday, April 23, 2012

Phones Are For People

[Hello, Atlantic readers. Yes, that’s my photograph over there. There’s more on the Anti-Digit Dialing League in this previous post.]

I am now the proud custodian of a copy of the Anti-Digit Dialing League’s pamphlet manifesto Phones Are For People (1962). This pamphlet seems to qualify as scarce: I found no copy in the WorldCat and one copy for sale online. Now there are none. Thanks, SuburbanBooks.

The pamphlet is ten pages. The cover cartoon — “Hello, 274-435-4946? This is 483-235-5897” — is by Bob Bastian. A listing of the League’s Board of Directors appears on what would be the title page: Hiram Johnson III (1914–1992, attorney, grandson of a California governor-then-senator), Jack Block (1924–2010, professor of psychology at U Cal Berkeley), Bonnie Burgon (“editorial assistant,” associated at one point with ETC: A Review of General Semantics), Robert Carrow (1934–2008, attorney), S.I. Hayakawa (1906–1992, professor of English at San Francisco State, later a senator), Carl V. May (“public relations counselor”), and John D. Schick (“investments”).

Phones Are For People makes its case in Q. and A. format, entertaining possible objections and making clear the reasonableness of the case, as if to say, “We’re not, not — I repeat not — a bunch of crackpots.” It is 1962 after all, and they are Questioning Authority. Here is the group’s origin story:
The Anti-Digit Dialing League started over a cup of coffee in San Francisco when the conversation, quite by accident, drifted to the new Digit Dialing system. Both coffee drinkers had found the new system extremely confusing and difficult to use. They also wondered whether the change was really necessary. As a consequence they inserted a tiny notice in the classified section of a newspaper inquiring whether other people had experienced the same thoughts. They signed the ad, Anti-Digit Dialing League.

The response was incredible. Over thirty-five hundred people responded within ten days in the San Francisco Bay Area alone. As word about ADDL spread throughout the country, people wrote in wanting to start chapters of ADDL in other cities across the country. It quickly became obvious that ADDL was expressing a deep but previously unorganized concern of telephone users that the telephone company had somehow forgotten about them. This is the reason that ADDL started; it was an expression of widespread concern.
Another excerpt:
Q. But isn’t all this fuss simply a tempest in a teapot? Aren’t the people opposing Digit Dialing really just opposing progress? Isn’t the present furor nothing more than an emotional reaction to any kind of change?

A. Most decidedly not! Most people, and certainly the members of ADDL, welcome constructive change. However, the telephone is an extremely important part of everyday life, and major changes in its use will have widespread effects.
And according to this pamphlet, the opposition to digit dialing finds strong support in science. The ADDL points to “numerous psychological experiments” confirming that it is easier to memorize letters and numbers than numbers alone, and easier still to memorize names and numbers. The ADDL points also to a 1955 finding that seventy-five percent of adults could not remember a sequence of seven digits. Why then the move to digit dialing? Not, according to the ADDL, because of a looming shortage of telephone numbers: by its calculations, more than 820 million numbers are available by means of exchange names and numbers. No, the reason for the switch is ease in achieving “internal automation.” Nice try, telephone company. The ADDL isn’t buying:
But automation is an advance only if it frees people and takes them away from what is undignified and better done by machines. Digit Dialing places an added burden upon people by requiring them to fulfill the needs dictated by accounting machines and computers.
I’m surprised and disappointed to see that the humble poetry of exchange names plays only a small part in the ADDL’s argument, mentioned in passing before the emphasis on utility starts up again:
The reasons for preferring such historic exchanges as KLondike or YUkon or BUtterfield or MUrrayhill are not simply sentimental or emotional. Because of their traditional value, such named exchanges are much easier to remember and to use.
So instead of a paean to exchange names, I found “numerous psychological experiments.” I would have joined anyway. The $2.00 membership donation got you a membership card and badge.

If, fifty years later, anyone from the ADDL is out there, I would love to hear from you.

comments: 7

Sean said...

What a great artifact—thanks for posting this. Though I haven't seen the Q. and A., that it's akin to a dialog made me think of it as a 'dowdy' Dialing ad Parnassum.

Though referring to Gradus ad Parnassum as being dowdy may have to be filed in the Department of Redundancy Department.

"Parnassus" almost sounds like a suitable prefix code, too: PArnassus 5-8873.

If you get the chance, some selections would be great to read!

Michael Leddy said...

Ha. I just received an e-mail touching on the very topic of redundancy. As I wrote back, I too also dislike it.

All the passagers in the post are from the pamphlet. I’ll add some more though to give the Q. and A. flavor.

Michael Leddy said...

Oops -- passages. It was late.

Sean said...

I wonder if they were referring to "7 plus or minus 2" vis-à-vis being able to remember seven digits. Looking at my copy of that article it says it was published in 1956, a year later than the 1955 finding that was mentioned. I'm not familiar with the pre-publication history of that paper but it wouldn't surprise me if this "discovery" was somehow floating around prior to publication.

It's always fun when advertisements from that time period refer to what "scientific research has shown", and mostly without any kind mention of who the scientists were or what the research was for. Also, the quasi-scientific claims about the benefits of a product, for example: Geritol "cures tired blood" (just ask Charles Van Doren). ;)

Michael Leddy said...

That seems likely. The pamphlet gives no sources for its findings; I think that the credentials of those on the board are meant to suggest that the reader take these things on faith.

There’s a good discussion at Edward Tufte’s website of the rule of seven. The rule is apparently an influence on PowerPoint slide-making.

Mike said...

I was just doing a little curiosity research on the Anti-Digital Dialing League and came across your post.

Since the ADDL had membership cards and badges, did they have any kind of logo?

Michael Leddy said...

Not that I know of.