The Hello Machine is a fascinating short film directed in 1974 by Carroll Ballard. It shows the mind-boggling process of making AT&T’s Electronic Switch System mainframe by hand, a formidable machine was built after 20 years of research and spending 500 million dollars — 2.4 billion in 2014 dollars!
“That was 10 times its original budget,” says AT&T’s archivist George Kupczak. According to Kupczak, the mainframe — which managed the connections between telephones of a given geographic area to the company’s long distance network — tripled the number of calls of the previous electromechanical switch system. The new mainframe could serve an amazing — at the time — 5 million customers. Its fourth version was capable of handling 600,000 calls per hour.
The Hello Machine is a short, wordless film-poem, in which [Ballard] chronicles the building of an entire ESS Mainframe. […] In the film, he chronicles the act of making and building the mainframe with human hands so carefully that it becomes a handcraft, like weaving or sewing. As he elevates the frameworker to the status of craftperson, the mainframe itself becomes an artistic masterpiece, then brought to life by electricity. Ballard’s stance is that it takes humans to connect humans, not machines.
Here’s a factoid about the short film’s title, in case you didn’t know about it:
There’s a little irony in the title: “The Hello Machine” used to be a nickname for the telephone, but Alexander Graham Bell, the machine’s inventor, always thought that “Ahoy” would be a better greeting for a phone call than “Hello”. “Hello” was more of Thomas Edison’s idea, and is, of course, the one that stuck. In fact, the word wasn’t quite as popular as a greeting in English UNTIL the telephone became widely used.