Google used to be a human, she was a telephone operator

In 1994, Anne Landers printed a column from an exasperated "information operator" who wanted to clarify her job to the newspaper reading public:

DEAR ANN LANDERS: I work for the telephone company. Please don't print my name. I need my job.I am an information operator. My responsibility is to assist callers in finding telephone numbers. Period. Please inform the public I am not a physician, a veterinarian, a nutritionist, a lawyer, a horticultural specialist, a style consultant, a librarian or a family counselor. You would not believe the questions I am asked on a daily basis.

Recently, a woman wanted to know if it was OK to use 10 eggs in her angel food cake instead of 12, if the eggs were especially large. Another caller asked what Mayor Richard Daley's wife's real name was. "I know they call her Maggie," she said, "but her real name must be something else." The same caller wanted to know if she should have her bunions operated on.

Every day, I am asked, "What is the temperature?" and "Should I wear my heavy coat?" I am constantly asked which TV channels carry certain programs. Yesterday, a woman asked if you should starve a cold and feed a fever, or the other way 'round. This morning, a man asked what city he was in. He said, "I know this sounds goofy, but I'm a salesman, and I travel a lot."

If you print this letter, Ann, please add that it would be nice if people said "thank you" once in a while. Connected to the Public in Chicago

Dear Connected: Here's your letter. Maybe more people will say "thank you," but don't expect to get fewer weird questions. Meanwhile, remember that a sense of humor can be a valuable asset. I hope you have one.

Reading through this, I was struck by the continuities in our information seeking habits. Although nearly instantaneous access to information about our every day questions has undoubtedly changed a lot about the ways we ask and expect answers, it's fascinating that many people treated telephone operators in this same way before the advent of search engines.