Technologies have life cycles, like cities do, like institutions do, like laws and governments do.
The first stage of any technology is the Question Mark, often known as the "Golden Vaporware" stage. At this early point, the technology is only a phantom, a mere gleam in the inventor's eye. One such inventor was a speech teacher and electrical tinkerer named Alexander Graham Bell.
In 1863, the teenage
Another would-be technical breakthrough was the
Most "Golden Vaporware" technologies go nowhere.
But the second stage of technology is the Rising Star, or, the "Goofy Prototype," stage. The telephone,
Technologies in their "Goofy Prototype" stage rarely work very well. They're experimental, and therefore half- baked and rather frazzled. The prototype may be attractive and novel, and it does look as if it ought to be good for something-or-other. But nobody, including the inventor, is quite sure what. Inventors, and speculators, and pundits may have very firm ideas about its potential use, but those ideas are often very wrong.
The natural habitat of the Goofy Prototype is in trade shows and in the popular press.
Infant technologies need publicity and investment money like a tottering calf need milk. This was very true of
Contemporary press reports of the stage debut of the telephone showed pleased astonishment mixed with considerable dread.
At the time, most people thought this notion made good sense. In fact,
Hirmondo is dead tech today, but Hirmondo might be considered a spiritual ancestor of the modern telephone-accessed computer data services, such as CompuServe, GEnie or Prodigy. The principle behind Hirmondo« is also not too far from computer "bulletin-board systems" or BBS's, which arrived in the late 1970s, spread rapidly across America, and will figure largely in this book.
We are used to using telephones for individual person-to-person speech, because we are used to the
Telegrams, unlike mere telephones, left a permanent physical record of their messages.
Telegrams, unlike telephones, could be answered whenever the recipient had time and convenience. And the telegram had a much longer distance-range than
The telegraph system was huge, and well-entrenched.
In 1876, the
The third stage of technology is known as the "Cash Cow" stage. In the "cash cow" stage, a technology finds its place in the world, and matures, and becomes settled and productive. After a year or so, Alexander Graham Bell and his capitalist backers concluded that eerie music piped from nineteenth-century cyberspace was not the real selling-point of his invention. Instead, the telephone was about speech -- individual, personal speech, the human voice, human conversation and human interaction. The telephone was not to be managed from any centralized broadcast center. It was to be a personal, intimate technology.
When you picked up a telephone, you were not absorbing the cold output of a machine -- you were speaking to another human being. Once people realized this, their instinctive dread of the telephone as an eerie, unnatural device, swiftly vanished. A "telephone call" was not a "call" from a "telephone" itself, but a call from another human being, someone you would generally know and recognize. The real point was not what the machine could do for you (or to you), but what you yourself, a person and citizen, could do *through* the machine. This decision on the part of the young Bell Company was absolutely vital.
But in January 1878, a disaster made the telephone famous.
A train crashed in
After Tarriffville, the telephone network spread like crabgrass. By 1890 it was all over
The telephone had become a mature technology.
Professor Bell (now generally known as "Dr. Bell" despite his lack of a formal degree) became quite wealthy. He lost interest in the tedious day-to-day business muddle of the booming telephone network, and gratefully returned his attention to creatively hacking-around in his various laboratories, which were now much larger, better- ventilated, and gratifyingly better-equipped.
There would never be another Alexander Graham Bell, but in years to come there would be surprising numbers of people like him.
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Jay, from Bangalore
Jay, from Bangalore