Americana: Modernizing Ma Bell

The telephone company has been accused of being the stereotype of impersonal corporate power. But for the 1,800 folks of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island, 25 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, Pacific Telephone had always been downright neighborly. Almost everybody recognizes by voice the 19 operators who handle Avalon's manual switchboard, which is the last such one in the Bell system. Not for long. Because of increasing hordes of summer tourists and hard-to-replace parts, Santa Catalina will join the computer age this week when its switchboard is replaced by a direct-dial system.

Many of the locals are upset by the...

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