A dial: Dots or no dots?
Keys: Square or round?
How many numbers?
From the obit for John Karlin, a researcher at Bell Labs, who studied ways to make the telephone easier to use:
By the postwar period, telephone exchanges that spelled pronounceable words were starting to be exhausted. All-digit dialing would create a cache of new phone numbers, but whether users could memorize the seven digits it entailed was an open question.
Mr. Karlin’s experimental research, reported in the popular press, showed that they could. As a result, PEnnsylvania and BUtterfield — the stuff of song and story — began to slip away. By the 1960s, those exchanges, along with DRexel, FLeetwood, SWinburne and scores of others just as evocative, had all but disappeared.
This did not please traditionalists, and thanks to the papers they knew the culprit’s name.
“One day I was at a cocktail party and I saw some people over in the corner,” Mr. Karlin recalled in a 2003 lecture. “They were obviously looking at me and talking about me. Finally a lady from this group came over and said, ‘Are you the John Karlin who is responsible for all-number dialing?’ ”
Mr. Karlin drew himself up with quiet pride.
“Yes, I am,” he replied.
“How does it feel,” his inquisitor asked, “to be the most hated man in America?”