The Communication Evolution

A trip down telegram lane

I’ve always loved the idea of telegrams, so much so that I’ve used “faux” telegrams for numerous Col. Littleton emails. As a young man, I guess the telegrams that would have interested me most would go something like . . . Dad (stop) Send money (stop) or even better . . . Dad (stop) Send money fast (stop) which reminds me of a time in 1964 when I was in Coast Guard Boot Camp stationed at Cape May, New Jersey.

The World’s Fair was going on in New York City. We had a leave and nowhere to go, so a couple of my friends and I decided on a whim that we should go to the World’s Fair. No money – no problem. One of my friends knew this girl who worked for Kodak in New York City. Kodak had apartments for business guests/employees and she “maybe” knew of a place we could sleep on the floor. So, on this scanty information we pooled our meager resources and got a cab driver to take us to New York City. We were pretty trusting because when we got there we paid the driver in advance to pick us up three days later at the corner where he dropped us off. After paying the cab driver, I arrived in NYC with $3. I’m sure my friends didn’t have much more.

But, we had an ace in the hole. We knew if worst came to worst, we could wire home for cash. (I’m sure that would have thrilled my Dad.) But, amazingly enough, we did find the girl who had a place where we could sleep on the floor. She even gave us some food. I spent three days in NYC on three dollars and the cab driver actually picked us up at the designated location for the return trip. Really, I’m not making this up. Guess the old saying is true that God looks after children and fools, which is good because I’m not sure my dad would have received an SOS telegram in time to save us from ourselves.

While letter writing as a form of communication allows people to say everything they need or want to say without regard for length, a telegram forced people to say what they needed in as few words as possible. Telegrams were charged based on the number of words so every word needed to mean something. Ever wonder why the word “stop” is inserted into old telegram copy? For some odd reason, punctuation cost more than the word.

The telegram reminds me a little of modern-day Twitter.   You’re given just 140 characters to say what you need to say, but you can tweet 20 times in a row, and you can tweet to millions of people at the same time – the wonder of modern technology.

I Have iPad-itis

I have a confession to make about technology. I love my iPad®. I can record my thoughts the second I have them and revisit them when I have time. I can look things up in an instant. I can travel anywhere I want to go. The world is before me on a 12.9” screen of pure, technological genius. I can design products on the iPad®. I can send stuff to people all over the world. I can get emails when I’m on the farm or in my workshop. I can be anywhere I want to be and people can still reach me. They can’t always find me, but they can reach me.

I have another confession to make. Even though I love some parts of new technology, sometimes I don’t think emails, text messages or tweets make people feel special. I miss the days when people talked to each other or sent handwritten letters. I missed out on the era when telegrams were hand delivered by messenger boys. I can imagine during that time that people looked forward to written announcements of weddings and births. But, I guess telegrams came with a mixture of anticipation and foreboding. To come by wire, it must be either “really good” or “really bad” news. A lot of people kept their telegrams, and they’ve been handed down from generation to generation.

No matter what inventors come up with next, I’m always going to be a believer in making people feel special. Fax machines, email, smart phones, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram all serve a purpose and we’d be hard-pressed to live without them; but, they’ll never be as satisfying as sitting in my old chair with my Writing Board on my lap, a stack of stationery and my favorite pen in hand writing something just for the person on the other end of the envelope. I even like licking the stamp (well, I used to before they made them peel-off) and putting the note in the mailbox.

No Tweeting For The Colonel

I’m a believer in the fact that you don’t have to go on and on about something. Some of the best stories or sentiments are short and to the point. In that way, I guess I could be great at Twitter; but for some unknown reason my associates at Col. Littleton won’t allow me to tweet. Years ago I heard a joke that went like this, “You know the three forms of communication? Telephone, Telegraph and Telawoman.” Now, you see why they won’t let me Tweet. Sorry ladies – I do realize that men talk as much as women. My wife tells me that every time she sees me on my iPhone®.

Telegrams were the first form of communication that could get from one place to another faster than any person could deliver it. The Pony Express, which I also greatly admire, was replaced by the invention of the telegraph machine in 1861. The last telegram was sent from Western Union in 2006 and India sent its last telegram in 2013. Gone are the images from old movies where the postman hurriedly rummaged through his leather satchel to retrieve a telegram. These days, if you’re feeling really nostalgic, you can order one online and have it delivered through the postal service.

Here at Colonel Littleton, we have a telegram system of sorts. We may not be able to travel to your front door personally, but we think of our products as a special delivery from us to you. We hope you feel that special attention has been paid to your order. We hope you feel that lot of heart and soul went into your Col. Littleton package. And, we hope you feel our appreciation for each and every Col. Littleton customer.

One Response

  1. Loved your telegram discussion. Reminded me of an old joke my father used to tell. Goes like this. A young man was away at school and was on a meager allowance and had run short. He sent his dad a telegram which read “Dad(stop)No mon(stop)no fun(stop)from son(stop)”. What he got in reply was “Son(stop)Too bad(stop)So sad(stop)from Dad(stop).

    Thanks for the article and the memories that it conjured up.

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