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The Amazing World Beyond Your Phone

September 28, 1987|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

Aphids on your ivy? Bill collectors on your doorstep? A bit befuddled by your tarot cards? Help is as close as your telephone.

L.A.'s The Place, after all, where you can arrange anything from a psychic reading to an eviction notice at the touch of an 800 number or a Southern California area code. Not to mention a free consultation with a private eye or a rundown on how the big-eye albacore are biting (both of those are available 24 hours).

Don't hang up . . .

The future is now at AT&T. Video teleconferencing, at about $700 an hour coast-to-coast in prime business time, is saving busy executives from jet lag and, as AT&T district manager Peter DeTagyos put it, "having to miss their child being the giant squash in the fourth grade harvest festival."

And there have been other benefits that could not have been predicted. "The Japanese business community went wild" when the technology came to Tokyo, DeTagyos said.

He pointed to studies in this country showing that participants in a video teleconferencing session are less intimidated, less reluctant to express their views or to change their minds than they are when seated across a conference table from the chairman of the board.

Perhaps only 100 U.S. homes now have videophones, he said, but he predicted that within 15 years, these devices will be priced down to the home market.

The Phone as an Intelligent Terminal

That's not all. "In the future," he said, "the phone is going to become an intelligent terminal. Your telephone system will turn on your heat, your alarm system, control your access to your personal computer . . . and very soon you'll be able to call a distributor and say, 'I'd like to see "Fantasia" at 8 o'clock (on the VCR).' You'll also be able to call and say, 'I would really love to hear Stravinsky's Rite of Spring done by the London Symphony with (Andre) Previn conducting, the one they did in 1962' and have that downloaded to your stereo system."

New from AT&T is a security system, a wireless box that sits in a closet and, in time of emergency, automatically seizes control of your telephone line and calls the appropriate agency for help.

DeTagyos explained, "Say you've parked your car in your driveway and someone sticks a gun in your back," demanding that you disconnect your home alarm. If the victim punches the authorization code in backwards, the system will give all appearances of having been turned off but, in fact, it will have alerted the police to come--and without sirens.

Cellular telephones for automobiles are proliferating like mini malls in Southern California but an answering machine in the family BMW is not really practical (the heat would melt the tape). Now it is possible to pick up messages on one's car phone through a super-sensitive new answering machine at home. When leaving the car, the driver simply forwards the calls to his home machine; when he returns to his car, he calls home and picks them up.

The picture phone, introduced with much ballyhoo by AT&T at the 1964 New York World's Fair, is no longer manufactured by the company (the machines are available from other manufacturers). "Everybody went ga-ga over it" at first, DeTagyos explained, but it turned out that "although they were fascinated by it, not too many people really wanted it. We put it on the shelf as an idea that was well ahead of its time."

Even though the units were equipped with an on-off switch, he said people were reluctant to relinquish the privacy the old-fashioned telephone afforded them; they wanted to be able to laugh, frown or grimace without being seen. But stand by, DeTagyos said, "It's going to make a comeback."

Is a deadbeat tenant refusing to move out? A number of eviction services are as close as your Touch-Tone. "We do a lot of them without anyone coming into the office," said Bruce Gendron at Landlord Legal Services (213) 877-3311. Gendron, speaking on one of the service's 15 phone lines, explained that a phone call to Legal will get your tenant served with a three-day notice to pay up or get out. The billing, typically $215, can be handled by mail.

At the end of 1-(800)-DENTIST, a friendly voice assures the caller that this is "the most important call your mouth can make." The Santa Monica-based service, ready to refer to 80 member dentists in L.A. and Orange counties, is "targeted toward the procrastinating person," explained receptionist Jody Lacio.

Before inviting a dentist to join, said co-owner Gary Saint Denis, "We check to see if they've ever been sued for malpractice or brought up for peer review." He believes it's an idea whose time has come: "There isn't the family structure, the neighborhood structure anymore. People look in the Yellow Pages and there are 30 pages of dentists."

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