The song(? ) remembers when by
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Prompted By Cutting the Cord

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The ubiquitous ethernet cord of the dial-up age of computers. (Photo by Michael Schwarzenberger/Pixabay)

Years ago, while teaching in Memphis, I found myself a bachelor for the first time in  two decades, and I would long for the past when I had a partner in life. Then I’d hear a song that struck the right chord with my loneliness, and my mind would go back to the days of love.

When the dial-up age of the Internet morphed into the Wi-Fi age, most of us breathed a huge sigh of relief.

That year, the country singer Trisha Yearwood had a hit song about this phenomenon, it’s at the following link, and it was called, The Song Remembers When. 

We all know that simply hearing an old song can transport us back in time. Perhaps we remember those times as happier ones, because the angst is removed from them. We know how things turned out, and we know we survived.

And then there’s noise

But all noises and all sounds do not make songs, yet still they carry us back in time. And, like songs, not always to happier times.

For example, there’s the noise found at the following link. Remember this one?

If you slept through that phase of Internet technology, you will not know the grating and agonizingly slow sound of your computer dialing up the Internet . If you waited to awake in the age of Wi-Fi, you’re one of the lucky ones. For the rest of us, the dial-up sound is very similar to R2D2 being bashed about by an angry Stormtrooper, and it is impossible to forget.

The blessed ethernet cord delivered that hellish sound  and played it right into your Sony headset every time you went online.

The cord had to be plugged into a phone jack, or the thing that was never close to where your computer was. Even if it was, you sometimes wanted more privacy like when you wanted to order that expensive guitar without your spouse seeing you do it.

The hallway cord

So, to achieve that solitude, you excused yourself from her company, said you had to talk business with your boss, and you didn’t want to disturb her Jeopardy viewing.

Then you unhooked the short ethernet cord from the phone jack, replaced it with a 40-foot python from your computer bag, uncoiled it down the hallway into your bedroom, and shut the door.

You had your Nirvana and of course your loving wife didn’t suspect a thing.

There, in the peaceful privacy  of your bedroom, you dialed up the Internet connection, using one of the numbers the Internet provider gave you. And then, in a couple seconds, your solitude was blasted apart by the agonizing wailing and sputtering of R2D2 being kicked about in a metallic warehouse.

It wasn’t just the sound that was so annoying. Making the noise even more infuriating was the time it could take to actually make the connection to the Net, because a hoard of other netziens in your area were logging on, and your cable was limited in capacity.

Waiting for Godot

So you waited. And waited. And waited.

As you did your waiting, you sometimes  recalled your childhood days of the old telephone party lines. You remembered waiting for Clara to finish telling Ophelia about how huge her spring cucumbers were before she hung up. At last you had your person-to-person privacy.

Back to the current moment, when finally you broke through to your browser, you remember it being one of the happiest times of the evening. You began browsing the online catalogue of guitars and found the one you wanted about a half-hour later.

You are not alone

You were ready to place your order when two things happened in sudden sequence.  First came the loud yelp! from the hallway, and then your computer screen went  black.

Opening the door, you glimpsed the tail of your dog running for her life around the corner into the living room. Then you looked down at the ethernet cord and found you now had two cords. The chewed ends of this electrical line were still smoldering, and you shed no tears over your dog. Of course, he was just fine.

From that night forward, you have defined progress as the day Wi-Fi was invented. But you’re still trying to get that ugly dial-up song out of your head.

Profile photo of Jim Willis Jim Willis
I am a writer, college professor, and author of several nonfiction books, including three on the decade of the 1960s. Several wonderful essays of gifted Retrospect authors appear in my book, "Daily Life in the 1960s."

Characterizations: been there, funny, well written


  1. Oh dear, the frustration, and oh the poor doggie.
    (Sadly we have a friend whose house literally burned down after a squirrel chewed on some exterior wirings!)

    I think we skipped that part of your tech saga, I don’t actually remember dialing up but must have! But now we’re all hooked up and like us all I’m sure, I have a love -hate relationship with technology!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Those dial-up days were the pits, Jim! I remember that sound all too well. (As for Dana’s anecdote, a squirrel roasted itself on a transformer across the street and left the neighborhood in the dark once. We found it’s charred body on the street..ugh!) Thank goodness we’ve progressed beyond those days!

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    I remember that sound as well as “You’ve got mail.” Quite a different era!

  4. pattyv says:

    Thank goodness I came into tech much later than you. You are a man of the long haul and undoubtedly have a deeper appreciation of the progress. Jim I consider you a true pioneer.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    Ah yes, the ethernet cord….. Thanks for the ride back through those days of yore–you really did a great job bringing them back to life with all the had-to-be-true because who could make them up details–and made me laugh too.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    The Cord still exists! Good for higher speeds and conservation of wireless bandwidth on large institutional networks where people still work at desks, and on subnetworks and individual instruments that are best left in splendid (and secure) isolation.

    One night in college, at the behest of Mistress Ethanol, I decided it would be funny to touch a phone cord, plugged into the receptacle, to my tongue.

    They are NOT a mere 6 or 12 volts DC!

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