Mary: It’s not so far-fetched. Militaries all over the world are beginning to incorporate the telephone into their operations. Commanders are able to talk to soldiers in the barracks without leaving their station.
Walter: Telephones are still pretty delicate for any sort of field use.
Mary: I’m more worried about vast surveillance networks than exploding receivers—telephone wires rigged up to lamp posts so citizens have no privacy. Remember, these aren’t just devices for speaking across great distance; they’re instruments for listening.
Samuel: The New York Times recently laid this out pretty clearly: “Absolute silence will be our only safety. Conversation will be carried on exclusively in writing, and courtship will be conducted by the use of a system of genius symbols.”
Mary: Yeah, the Times was making the point that the telephone ought to be “severely denounced,” but I can sort of see the appeal of communicating in a series of small illustrations or icons: you know, a smiley face, a heart, a thumbs up, clapping hands, that kind of thing.
Walter: You know, there’s still the case to be made that the telephone is a much more secure form of communication than we’ve ever had—other than whispering directly into a person’s ear. With a telegraph, there’s always a third party listening in.
Samuel: Okay, but you still have to speak loudly and enunciate like crazy with the telephone. I can’t imagine these things will ever pick up a whisper, for example. Written correspondence isn’t going anywhere.
Mary: Or maybe the telephone will replace it entirely, and people will completely forget the art of letter writing—most agree that the telegraph is already to blame for its significant deterioration.
Walter: Either way, my guess is that plenty of people will be willing to accept that our concept of privacy, as we know it, will be totally dismantled before we see the year 1900. It’s the price we pay for marvelous technology.
Samuel: The actual price is something like $30 a year now—absurd when you think how recently people were paying $10 annually.
Walter: It should probably be noted this technology has life-saving potential, too. Some had speculated underwater capabilities with this model—it doesn’t look like we’re going to see that for at least a few years. But underwater telephony is sure to be a game-changer for rescue divers.
Samuel: It’s pretty remarkable to see how far we’ve come. Not that long ago, the telephone was ridiculed as a toy.
Mary: Ah, looks like we’re wrapping up here.
Samuel: Bell looks relieved.
Walter: Well, that does it for us. Thanks, everybody!
Read some of the real-world inspiration for this piece: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.