On May 24, 1844, the painter and inventor Samuel F.B. Morse took center stage among a group gathered in the U.S. Supreme Court chambers, housed at that time in the Capitol basement. Morse was demonstrating his electromagnetic telegraph to mark the official launch of a pathfinding service that reached 30 miles, from Washington to Baltimore. He clicked out dots and dashes to spell a Bible quote chosen by the daughter of the U.S. patent commissioner: “What hath God wrought.”
Sending and receiving a telegram required a code-skilled operator, who could transmit 30 characters per minute. Another operator on the other end was needed to translate the code, and unless the recipient came to the Baltimore train station a courier would be needed to hand deliver the message.
Thirty-two years later Alexander Graham Bell shouted into a mouthpiece: “Mr. Watson, come here—I want to see you.” It was an iconic moment that yielded another of history’s most famous quotes. The world press corps, on the other hand, paid no attention to whatever was said by the first shopper who prowled grocery aisles while conversing, by cell phone, with someone on the other side of the earth. Such is technological progress. Such are ever-higher expectations for the next gizmo.
Such is the easy danger of not paying enough attention to how new technology impacts society.