I am looking for a short story I read long ago about the phone system 'waking up'. It talks about how the phone system had just reached the number of connections as the number in the human brain. They lead you somehow to wonder (maybe characters speculating?) and it ends with a 'baby cry' of all the phones in the world ringing. I think I read it at least 20 years ago, maybe as many as 30. I think it was after 1978 because I think it was after I went to work at Bell Labs - so the phone connection resonated:-). It was definitely pre-internet.

What was the title? Who was the author? Any more on the plot since my memory is very hazy? I remember really liking the story and this site has got me thinking about my ATF's.

  • There are many varients of this story-line floating around going back at least as far as A Logic Named Joe though I don't think that is the one you are looking for. Supplying more details would help. Dec 16, 2012 at 17:07
  • While you've accepted another story I feel its worth a comment Ray Bradbury's "dial double zero" not published but seen in documentary "Ray Bradbury Story of a writer" is also about a phone system coming to life. Apr 27, 2020 at 5:22

3 Answers 3


"Dial F for Frankenstein" by Arthur C. Clarke (1965)? The telephones all ring at the beginning of the story, not the end, though.

First lines

At 0150 Greenwich Mean Time on December 1, 1975, every telephone in the world started to ring. A quarter of a billion people picked up their receivers to listen for a few seconds with annoyance or perplexity.

Last lines

"But he knew already that it was far, far too late. For Homo Sapiens, the telephone bell had tolled."

  • Right or wrong for Duncan this is a nicely stated answer. Dec 16, 2012 at 22:48
  • Thank you! I guess I read it longer ago than I remembered!
    – Duncan
    Dec 17, 2012 at 4:19

This may be a short story I have just read, by Primo Levi : “In the interest of the public”. Indeed, as the telephone system gets more and more connections — especially after the networks of different European countries get connected —, the phone system becomes more and more intelligent. This story is far from being the best in the book. I have it in a collection titled “Natural Histories • Followed by Flaw of form”, “Natural Histories” being itself a collection of short stories, with some really zany gems.


Another possibility is one of Ray Bradbury's stories in The Martian Chronicles: The Complete Edition), "Night Call, Collect".

A man stranded on Mars sits in an empty town, in an empty house. A phone rings, and when he picks up he hears his own voice. He spent all his early years recording messages for his older self, years setting up the connections so that he might never feel alone. Now, years later, the calls all begin to come at once. At first they are comforting, but quickly become a maddening reminder of all that he has lost. His youthful self sits out of the reach of time, mocking him as he grows only older. Maddened, he sets off across the planet, attempting to destroy every vestige of his own voice. On his way, he gets a call from a passing ship; is he finally rescued, or is it simply another trick played on him by his own voice?

  • 2
    -1; I might appreciate the late answer in another context just to show differing possibilities on a vagueish question, even where there's an accepted answer, but there's enough in the original question to tell in this case that this is wrong, even aside from the existing answers.
    – Radhil
    Feb 6, 2017 at 17:45

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