Everyone who watched this Sunday’s episode of AMC’s Mad Men, “A Day’s Work,” (Season 7, episode 2) was treated to a funny (and awkward) depiction of how long-distance conference calling made its debut in the modern workplace of early 1969. In a pivotal scene, the New York office of Sterling, Cooper & Price is holding a conference call with their Los Angeles office about a new account in Southern California, deciding how to manage the new business.
I won’t give away any details of the scene, but the conference call technology itself is an important plot device that moves the scene forward. It also gives us a glimpse of how conference calling over distance was both a marvel and a headache, as we watch the characters’ process both their awe and frustration with the new technology.
The sound of their conference call is tinny and high pitched, emitting shrilly from a square box sitting on obtrusively on the table. The connection is littered with static, and cuts out at key points in the conversation, leaving people to wonder what was said. And in one critical point in the discussion, the participants think the call has ended when it hadn’t, allowing one party to hear a conversation the other thought was private.
Photo credit: Jordin Althaus/AMC
The whole scene shows you how far office voice technology and conference calling have come in the last 45 years. Some of these very same conference call challenges probably still exist in some offices today, decades later, with technology that trades quality for lower cost, and is so clunky and obtrusive it steals focus from what matters most: the conversation.
20+ years ago I worked for a company called Teleconferencing Technologies, Inc. and we were one of the first three resellers in the world of the SoundStation. It was an amazing experience seeing how users embraced this magic little starfish speakerphone. What used to be mad men and women in conference calls turned out to be extremely happy meeting participants!
Do you remember your first conference call experience? How did it go?