You can still dial the time on your telephone, reports Adrienne LaFrance for The Atlantic:
The appeal of calling the time, for adults, was more practical. After an electrical outage, for instance, you might use the service to reset your clock. And though Verizon discontinued the line–along with a related telephone weather service–five years ago, the U.S. Naval Observatory still offers a time-by-phone service. (Call 202-762-1401 today, and you’ll hear a pleasant ticking sound followed by the announcement of the exact time, delivered in an old-timey-broadcasting voice.)
Not only does it still exist, but people still use it.
“We get 3 million calls per year!” said Demetrios Matsakis, the chief scientist for time services at the Naval Observatory. “And there’s an interesting sociology to it. They don’t call as much on the weekend, and the absolute minimum time they call is Christmas. On big holidays, people don’t care about the time. But we get a big flood of calls when we switch to Daylight [saving] time and back.”
I have fond memories of calling up the time lady as a kid; I think it was one of those things that my mom had me do to distract me. Later on, my friend and I had a habit of prank-calling the telephone operators and playing sound effects–once, one called back, though thankfully she was laughing pretty hard.
(Weirdly enough, I actually saw Matsakis speak at Balticon last month, though he was talking more about general understandings of time and its portrayal in science-fiction.)
[via Harry McCracken on Twitter]