I've Been Thinking

The History of the Telephone
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  • My family and I have always been interested in the history of the development of technology. In our studies we have discovered a number of significant events and artefacts whose meanings have been misinterpreted by traditional historians and archaeologists. We believe we have identified evidence of several early attempts to achieve the transmission of voice over distances both long and short. In other words, the telephone has been with us for a lot longer than had been previously realised.

    Early mankind seem to have had initial successes by using sea shells joined together by cotton. The cotton was pulled tight and the sea shell was put to the ear to receive and to the mouth to send. There were a number of problems including the inability to turn off the sound of the sea (but it was great when you had been put on hold) and the distance over which the system would work. As cotton technology improved and the separation of the two shells increased, the difficulty created by "line sag" became more critical. This meant that the users had to get to higher places so that the cotton did not touch the ground. Rocky outcrops were of limited help and so the desire to get as high off the ground as possible seems to have been the driving force behind all the tall structures that were built during man's early history.

    One of the earliest and certainly the largest of these tall structures was the great pyramid in Egypt. Some people believe that the pyramids were built as tombs for Egyptian kings, our studies have reveal that they were actually intended to be telephone sending and receiving stations. The aim was to build many of these around the world and link them with sea shell and cotton telephone systems. Unfortunately, the effort required to build such a structure was so great that the whole project was dropped. The proponent of the scheme was buried in the middle of the pyramid to teach him a lesson and act as a warning to other high-tech loonies.

    It has long been recognised that the early church, as an organisation, was the key to civilisation and that it played a major part in holding together societies through education and communication. We can now reveal that the requirements for communication played a large part in the structure of the church buildings themselves. We have worked out that churches were originally designed as telephone stations, complete with bell to signal an incoming call. The churches formed a network all over Europe and were inter-connected using shell and cotton telephones. We also believe that the local town crier with his hand bell could be considered to be the fore runner of the mobile phone.

    We have also discovered that, in England, Stonehenge was a large central exchange where messages were received from all parts of the country and then relayed to their destination. A primitive "store and forward" system. That is why the stone blocks were arranged in a circle and why there are so many churches in England. The Druids were the world's first telephonists.

    While in England, we found that the early Roman roads, which run in straight lines, irrespective of the local landscape, were actually built as part of the telephone system. Archaeologists, who should know better, have suggested that the roads were in straight lines because armies found that they were easier on which to march. This is, of course, a feeble explanation as turning corners is not a difficult task. The real reason is because the sea shell and cotton telephone systems required that the cotton be pulled tight. The road was only there so that the repair technicians could get at the cotton to tie knots in it when it broke. The armies were only permitted to use the roads if they kept out of the way of the technicians. Queen Boadacea spent a lot of her time rushing up and down these roads on her chariot cutting the cotton.

    The French tried to get in on the act when they built the Eiffel Tower, making it much taller than the churches found in other nations. The fault with this scheme was that they did not include a bell in the design and so they had no idea when anyone was ringing them up. Even if they had put a bell in the tower, no-one would have heard it because of all the noise coming from Quasimodo at Notre Dame. We think that Quasimodo was actually working for the French postal service who did not want the telephone system to be a success.

    While on the subject of the French, we believe that they originally sent the Statute of Liberty to America to be used as a telephone station. That is why the lady is holding her arm up into the sky. The Americans got so fed up with the French not answering when they were called and then constantly calling them up to find out why no-one wanted to talk, that they eventually disconnected the line.

    The Italians recognised the potential of the telephone but not all their attempts at building stations were successful. The tower at Pizza worked well initially, however it now leans because the tension in the string was so great that it pulled the tower over to one side. If they had built a balanced system this would not have happened. The Italians seem to have improved their construction methods and it seems that the Colosseum was also a central exchange like Stonehenge and it is no coincidence that there are many churches in Rome.

    The telephone, as we now know it, was invented by Alexander Graham Bell. He took a wax coated cylinder, rotated it about its long axis, arranged for a needle to inscribe a groove on the wax, attached an acoustic horn to the needle that modulated the groove in a lateral direction, reset the needle to the beginning of the groove and heard his own voice. Having invented the gramophone he felt he had to tell someone about it. Unfortunately there was no-one around, so, in a fit of inventive genius, he created the electric telephone. Once again he missed the target as he had only invented one phone. After waiting a couple of weeks for someone to ring him up he realised that he had better invent a second phone. Once he had done that, the whole idea of the electric telephone soon caught on, rapidly replacing the sea shell and cotton model.

    We now move on to modern telephones and the problem of how to deal with them.

    Today's telephone is a remarkable instrument. I have on my desk a phone with 56 buttons and a volume control. Does it do more than my old phone with a simple, friendly dial that made nice ticking sounds when I used it? Like heck it does. What it does do is frighten me so much that I am terrified I will break something or disconnect someone if I press the wrong button.

    Talking about buttons, the ones on my phone have wonderfully meaningful labels like RL, AD.ON, FW.ME and DC. I went and found the manual that explains all the terms and tells you what they mean and how to use the phone to its fullest extent. Unfortunately, although I have got the manual, I have not been able to find the book that tells you how to understand the manual. It seems to have been written by the same person who tried to build the Egyptian pyramids and as we all know from reading the history of the telephone, he got that drastically wrong as well. The manual is full of hieroglyphics - lots of little pictures of buttons and telephones but with very few words. The writer probably left school after seventh grade and became an Engineer.

    The system is called a Commander, probably because it has now taken command of my life. I sit here at my desk in fear of someone ringing me up and me having to use the wretched thing. My biggest worry is that I shall have to put a caller on hold and then not be able to get him back again. I have visions of my caller dying of old age while he waits for me to get back to him. The music on hold in this place is enough to bore anyone to death. I did try to transfer a call once, unfortunately I had to go and bring the intended recipient to my desk and get him to reconnect the caller. This had the effect of making my desk unusable because my phone was now in use and so was my chair. I had an early lunch that day.

    Another of my fears is that I will be working late and the night bell rings and there is no-one else around to answer the phone. I have not the slightest idea how to deal with this situation so I make a point of either going home before the office is empty or just ignoring any bells that ring. I just hope there is not a fire.

    The telephone used to be such a friendly instrument. I would pick up the receiver and someone would talk to me. I did not even have a dial to worry about. Now, the thing just sits there and threatens me, daring me to pick it up and do battle. I am sure the phone can sense fear and it goes out of its way to be unco-operative. The number of times I have tried to call the switchboard and got it wrong, causing the phone to screech at me in protest is nobody's business. How our telephonist has been able to master the thing leaves me in total awe.

    We have also noticed that the more advanced and technologically developed the telephone gets, the fewer of its features get used. We are told that there are many things we can do with the telephone - conference calls, stored numbers, hands free use - the list is amazing and seemingly endless. The one that worries me most is the mysterious "follow me". I have visions of the thing getting up and walking around the office two steps behind me. Not surprisingly, I have not used this feature and I have no intention of trying it.

    Voice mail is one of nature's dirty tricks, in the same league as power failures, adverts on TV and erupting volcanoes. It takes what seems forever to leave a message, you do not know if the person being called will ever get it, and you do not know when they might listen to it. Even a rude secretary is preferable, at least you have got someone to be angry at and to blame when your call is not answered.

    We haven't dealt with Mobile phones (or Cell phones as the Americans so quaintly call them). This is mainly because, when I wrote the above article, they hadn't been invented.

    Bernard Robertson-Dunn, May 2010
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