Since the late 1870’s, and even more recently since the late 1990’s, everything has changed about the way we interact with each other. Instead of having an in-person conversation, we video chat. Instead of writing letters, we send emojis.
Even though some methods of communication have forever changed, one thing has steadfastly remained: the telephone. Though technology and the world at-large have changed, the telephone remains as one of the main ways we communicate with each other.
To better understand how we communicate today, we need to take a look at the history of the telephone and how it has shaped our relationships.
Coming Down to the Wire
In 1874, Alexander Graham Bell conceptualized the first idea of the telephone. His line of thinking was this: up until that point, only one message could be sent at a time using a telegraph – why couldn’t multiple messages be sent at the same time? Bell continued to develop his idea and the science behind it.
Eventually, Bell was able to secure funding to continue pursuing his technology. By early 1876, Bell was nearly finished with his technology. On March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone. The end, right? Not so fast.
On the same exact day and within a few hours of Bell, Elisha Gray also submitted a patent for what we now know as the telephone. This started an, unsurprisingly, brutal legal battle between the two over whose invention it truly was. We, of course, know that Bell eventually won this legal battle. But, at this point, he was just getting started.
A Ways to Go
Though the telephone was an incredible invention, it was by no means perfected just yet, and certainly not optimized for worldwide use. Initially, a direct line was needed between to people that wanted to talk to each other – obviously, this wasn’t an ideal scenario. By the 1880’s users of telephones no longer needed a direct line to connect to other users. Thus began the transition to switchboards.
Switchboards are exactly what the name sounds like – you’d make a call, be connected to a centralized location and then an operator would connect you to who you wished to talk to. This is a much more efficient system than the direct line method, both in terms of cost and time. By centralizing telephone operations to one area, much fewer lines needed to be built. Further, this opened the window for businesses to establish themselves as telephone service providers. Those who wanted service, whether they were businesses or individuals, could subscribe on a monthly basis, similar to today.
While we’ve been focusing on how the telephone evolved, there were many other indirect effects of the telephone. For instance, since businesses could communicate with each other more easily, there was less of a need to send mail. The growth of the telephone also helped businesses grow as well. When branches were able to communicate with each other more quickly and effectively, operations could be handled more efficiently. More efficiency meant more money saved which allowed the business to continue expanding.
Though the telephone quickly changed how businesses and individuals communicated, the change wasn’t instantaneous. Phone networks were still relatively limited. In the early 1900’s, long distance service began to expand, but it wasn’t until 1915 that the first coast to coast call was made – by Alexander Graham Bell! From New York City Bell called his partner who helped him initially invent the telephone, Thomas Watson, who was in San Francisco.
Today, thinking of having someone manually connect you to another user is foreign to us. Now, we can video chat with someone on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds in crystal clear HD.
The telephone can be seen as a precursor to the Internet; both rely on the same idea, that is, sending information along a wire to someone else. The Internet is obviously significantly more complicated than that, but the premise is still the same.
Since the 1990’s, telephones have evolved into cell phones, which are as ubiquitous as their predecessor. Now, you can call anyone, anywhere, at any time.
The way business is done has forever changed, too. There are multimillion dollar companies that don’t have offices at all and exist solely on the Internet. While Bell didn’t invent the Internet himself, he surely played an absolutely pivotal role in driving the way we communicate today.
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