One hundred forty-six years ago today, Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for a new-fangled device he called a telephone. The first actual electronic call was made 3 days later in Boston when Bell delivered a message to his assistant Thomas Watson in an adjacent room, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”
On October 9, 1876, Bell and Watson spoke by telephone to each other over a two-mile wire stretched between Cambridge and Boston. In 1899, AT&T acquired Bell’s telephone company and commenced building a line for transcontinental transmission.
On January 25, 1915, from his New York City location, Bell called Watson in San Francisco to mark the first cross-continent call. These were humble and comprehensible accomplishments that only barely augured the present capability of the communications range of individuals.
Of all the innovations introduced into society, few are more ubiquitous and powerful than the telephone. Along with the security of immediate contact with 911 sources and availability of family or friends across the globe, these personal devices are a marvel. Culturally, the plots of most TV shows and Hollywood productions could hardly proceed without the role of a cell phone. GPS has replaced AAA trip maps for the family vacation, while routes to restaurants by foot or auto are available in our pockets.
Now, smart phones offer the capability to receive and send text messages, emails, stock reports, weather conditions, breaking news, and other information with the use of applications (apps). The interface marriage with social media platforms has magnified and vastly extended the limit of Bell’s room-to-room event.
In addition to annoyances of robocalls and texts, social conventions have been abandoned as phone users insist upon posting publicly reports, photos, or videos of important as well as inane moments. Privacy sensibility is relaxed in the face of a need to broadcast about personal events. A viewer may now learn when the family residence is vacant or where children attend school.
Mr. Bell sought to create a social link to bridge a distance gap. Contemporary users need to appreciate that the technology is no longer the shared party line that marked the technology in earlier days. Today, “Hey, stranger, see what I’m doing” is the unguarded message.