Christopher Sebela

writer, wronger, rearranger

I am in the expensively furnished living room of Al Gilbertson, the creator of the “blue box.” Gilbertson is holding one of his shiny black-and-silver “blue boxes” comfortably in the palm of his hand, pointing out the thirteen little red push buttons sticking up from the console. He is dancing his fingers over the buttons, tapping out discordant beeping electronic jingles. He is trying to explain to me how his little blue box does nothing less than place the entire telephone system of the world, satellites, cables and all, at the service of the blue-box operator, free of charge.

"That’s what it does. Essentially it gives you the power of a super operator. You seize a tandem with this top button," he presses the top button with his index finger and the blue box emits a high-pitched cheep, "and like that" — cheep goes the blue box again — "you control the phone company’s long-distance switching systems from your cute little Princess phone or any old pay phone. And you’ve got anonymity. An operator has to operate from a definite location: the phone company knows where she is and what she’s doing. But with your beeper box, once you hop onto a trunk, say from a Holiday Inn 800 [toll-free] number, they don’t know where you are, or where you’re coming from, they don’t know how you slipped into their lines and popped up in that 800 number. They don’t even know anything illegal is going on. And you can obscure your origins through as many levels as you like. You can call next door by way of White Plains, then over to Liverpool by cable, and then back here by satellite. You can call yourself from one pay phone all the way around the world to a pay phone next to you. And you get your dime back too."

"And they can’t trace the calls? They can’t charge you?"

"Not if you do it the right way. But you’ll find that the free-call thing isn’t really as exciting at first as the feeling of power you get from having one of these babies in your hand. I’ve watched people when they first get hold of one of these things and start using it, and discover they can make connections, set up crisscross and zigzag switching patterns back and forth across the world. They hardly talk to the people they finally reach. They say hello and start thinking of what kind of call to make next. They go a little crazy.”

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