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  • Anticipating the Telephone February 6, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    Beachcombing rather cheekily talked about an anticipation of email the other day: an anticipation of the telegraph would have made more sense, sorry. But what about this anticipation of the telephone from the late seventeenth century?

    And as glasses have highly promoted our seeing, so ‘tis not improbable but that there may be found many mechanical inventors to improve our senses of hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. ‘Tis not impossible to hear a whisper a furlong’s distance, it having been already done, and perhaps the nature of the thing would not make it more impossible though that furlong should be ten times multiplied. And though some famous authors have affirmed it impossible to hear through the thinnest plate of Muscovy glass, yet I know a way by which it is easy enough to hear one speak through a wall a yard thick. It has not yet been thoroughly examined how far octocousticons may be improved, nor what other ways there may be of quickening our hearing or conveying sound through other bodies than the air, for that is not the only medium.

    I can assure the reader that I have by the help of a distended wire, propagated the sound to a considerable distance in an instant, or with as seemingly quick a motion as that of light, at least incomparably swifter than that which at the same time was propagated through the air, and this not only in a straight line or direct, but one bended in many angles.

    The last couple of sentences seem to be describing the kids’ telephone (aka the lovers’ telephone): two cans tied together with bits of greased grocery string. Beachcombing did a contemptibly small amount of research on this topic but found nothing significant reaching back beyond the nineteenth-century: and the real excitement over this trick seems to have come – rather uselessly – once the telephone had been invented. Can anyone push back beyond 1800? drbeachcombing @ yahoo DOT com

    It is a nice example of so close yet so far, an invention is seemingly in reach and yet those last few centimetres are missing. Of course, this is something that has repeated itself since humanity took about four thousand years from domesticating cows, goats and sheep to realising that the same could be milked. God only knows what major inventions are painfully close at hand today. In fact, thinking about it we are probably lucky not to know. They will almost certainly be unpleasant ones.


    29 Aug 2015: Sam points out an ancient version of the telephone.