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Lesson 1: Looking Back to See the Future

Technology and Society

Lesson 1: Looking Back to See the Future.

Looking Back to See the Future

Every so often, an invention comes along that makes a major change in the way an entire society lives. Think about the computer, the radio, and the automobile. Think further back and there's the steam engine. Before that, the printing press.

Looking back at how certain inventions have changed and continue to change our lives can help you better understand and prepare for the digital revolution.

Consider the telephone. Before the telephone was invented, the only way to send a message quickly was the local telegraph office. Coded in dots and dashes (an early binary language) by a telegraph operator, messages had to be brief. There was no chance for conversation unless both parties were in the telegraph office at the same time. Even then, you'd never hear an actual voice.

That changed in 1876 when the telephone was invented. Just two years later, the first commercial switchboard began operation. It connected a community of 21 telephones in New Haven, Connecticut. From there, telephone service steadily grew, creating new jobs such as telephone operator and telephone line installer as phone service spread across the country. Early service was limited, expensive, and suffered from poor voice quality, but the telephone was here to stay. In just 38 years, 30 percent of U.S. homes had telephones.

Today, it's almost inconceivable to be without a phone. The telephone has had a tremendous impact on society. It has:

  • Enabled us to alert people of illnesses and injuries more quickly so more lives could be saved.
  • Facilitated the rapid exchange of information, speeding up the pace of business, government, and scientific and technological advancement.
  • Permitted family members to live farther apart while continuing to share in each other's daily lives
  • Spread word of wars and disasters faster, promoting a more global focus in people's lives.

Don't think the telephone is done changing our lives, either. Consider the effect the cellular phone is having on our society. It enables people to remain in touch while they're on the go. No longer do you have to wait until you're "at" a phone. Your phone is in your pocket. What's more, if regular telephone service has been a lifesaver in emergencies, think what the newest cell phones with global positioning systems can do. Now rescue teams can zero in on a person's exact location in an emergency.

The moral of this story? If 125 years later, we still have yet to see all the innovation and change the telephone brings to our lives, what does this say about computers and other digital devices?

It tells us they're still in their infancy. There are a lot more surprises ahead.

Lesson 1: Looking Back to See the Future