There is no more POPCORN time

Author: 
Chris Crawford
Date: 
19 Mar 2009

With the time change two weeks ago, I still mourn the passage of an era in late 2007 when using your home or business phone to call the time ended a 60+ year tradition. For those of you born in the Internet age, it will mean little to you that not long ago the only way to really know the exact time was to call 767-2676, or "POPCORN," and a recorded woman's voice would intone the time in 10 second intervals saying something along the lines of ... "at the tone, the time will be 3:53 and 10 seconds ... beep." Later, the time zone designation was added to the message (Pacific Daylight or Standard Time).

Nowadays, people have dozens of ways to access what my father used to call "Navy time," which is accessible through the US Navy Observatory (www.usno.navy.mil) and used as the "official" time for military operations. My favorite is something called The World Clock (www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/) that I use a lot when trying to figure out what the time is in some other world location. This is even useful in the US when I'm working in one of the few states that don't observe daylight savings time. However, one doesn't have to look far to find the accurate time with cell phones, cable TV boxes, computers and cable news programs all featuring the time that is synchronized to some accurate (and probably Internet-based) source.

The San Francisco Chronicle article at the time of the demise of phone-time even featured a podcast interview with stage, TV and voice actress Joanne Daniels, the woman who originally recorded the looping audio track. Born in Atlanta, Daniels had to drop her Southern accent for the taping so as to homogenize her voice.

As you can imagine, the number of calls to phone-time are significantly lower than they used to be, and dropping at a rapid rate. Still, utility watchdog groups say AT&T is ignoring its customer needs by unplugging time, citing that the service is used extensively by the disabled (especially the vision impaired) and by those without computers.

By the way, that old "dial POPCORN" trick is a misnomer ... if you dialed the prefix 767 and any combination of four numbers thereafter, you would reach the time. POPCORN was only used to help people remember the prefix. I used to know other power user land line phone tricks, but I forgot them long ago. Things like numbers to dial after which you'd hang up and your phone would ring ... and a number to call that would tell you what number you were calling from. I guess these are dying novelties as cell phone power user tricks are becoming far more useful.

Still, I remember as a kid dialing the time to set clocks or to mark important times such as approaching midnight on New Years Eve. All too soon, fewer of us will be able to play the "remember when" game when the topic is dialing the time. Back in January of 2006, Western Union’s telegram service ceased, which used to play such an important role in American life. Perhaps dialing the time is not as momentous, but it is nonetheless nostalgic to note its passage.

But I see that we're out of time. If you’d like to make time with other local techies, join and become active in the Redwood Technology Consortium.

 

Crawford is president of Justice Served, a court management and technology consulting firm working with courts and justice agencies worldwide. Locally, he serves as Chairman of the Board for the Eureka Chamber of Commerce (www.eurekachamber.com) and is an active member of the Redwood Technology Consortium.

Copyright 2009, Eureka Times Standard Newspaper. The print version of this article appeared in the 3/19/09 edition of the Times Standard.