January 30, 2014 marked 50,000 days since the invention of the telephone.
Did anyone notice this noble birthday? Not really. But it's a significant milestone, one that deserves a bit of reflection.
What would the world be like if the telephone had never been invented?
For one thing, there would be no smartphones, perhaps no texting or even the Web. The whole notion of communicating with people down the street and around the world might not even exist in our minds.
Of course, part of this conversation is based on a simple twist of wording. If I told you the phone was 136 years, 10 months and 21 days old, you would most likely yawn. 50,000 days sounds so much more notable.
Hear my voice.
Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson achieved the first telephonic transmission of the human voice on March 10, 1876. For people like me whose livelihood relies on telecommunications technologies, we are grateful that Alexander Graham Bell discovered how to make “voice” dance on electrons over vast distances, at the speed of light.
To this day, the average human being has no idea how this works. When your iPhone rings and the caller is in a small town 850 miles away, do you have any idea how his voice travels through thin air - nearly instantly - to where you are?
Most people agree that Bell's invention ranks among the most important human innovations. So you might be surprised to learn that it wasn't an instant hit.
Interesting, but why would I need it?
As remarkable as it may seem, Bell’s invention was at first perceived as a circus side-show novelty.
In the first years after their invention, Bell and Watson collaborated on East Coast road shows to demonstrate their talking telegraph invention. Bell traveled to town halls packed with enthusiastic people who wanted to see and hear this miraculous new technology. Of course, no one actually had a telephone yet, so they had to set up the connections for each demonstration.
Bell’s demonstrations relied on Western Union telegraph lines and Watson’s ability to project his voice sufficiently while repeatedly singing “Hold the Fort” and other little ditties to mesmerize audiences miles away.
- Bell’s telephone patent application was filed on Valentine’s Day 1876. Elisha Gray (his name doesn't ring a bell, does it?) filed for a patent of his telephone invention a few hours after Bell.
- Bell proposed that the telephone should be answered, “Ahoy”, proving that inventors often don't have a clue how the public will actually use their inventions.
- Before the telephone was invented, people communicated by smoke signals, letters, pigeons, pony express, floating bottles and lanterns.
- Today, according to World Bank statistics, there are 95 phones for every 100 humans on the earth, and that’s just counting mobile phones.
Stay tuned... in 2149 on Christmas Eve, the telephone will be 100,000 days old. Perhaps we will be able to phone other planets - or civilizations - by then.