“电话”溯源 / The Origins of "Electric Speech"
*注：有关美国电话的历史和数据，我要感谢Ammon Shea所著的《电话簿》一书。这本书非常有趣，也很具有观赏性，是由企鹅出版集团Perigree Book出版社于2010年出版的。
The Origins of "Electric Speech"
TIME Magazine and Qualcomm conducted an international survey of 5,000 mixed age and income consumers in eight countries earlier this year, focusing on mobile technology usage and attitudes.
The survey is interesting, not so much because it emphatically confirms that dependency on mobile communications is now a global phenomenon, but in the way it profiles the different ways in which consumers in various countries value and use their mobile devices.
There are some broad similarities cutting across all 8 countries surveyed: China, India, Brazil, Korea, the U.S., the U.K., South Africa and South Korea.
One example: three-quarters of all 25-to-29-year-olds sleep with their phones. (Obviously none of these folks are old enough to have seen the early brick-sized models of mobile phones, which would have made a very uncomfortable sleeping partner.)
Another example of common attitudes in all 8 countries: one third of all respondents report feelings of anxiety if separated from their mobile for even a short period of time.
There are of course differences from one country to another. Chinese consumers came in strongest of all 8 nations in agreeing that mobile technology has improved life in their country in general; given them access to a larger group of potential customers; made it easier for them to access information to maintain their family's health; and also distracted them at times when their children were ready to play.
Chinese respondents also topped the response rates in frequency of using their mobile device to browse the internet, read news, search the web, and check the weather.
TIME's comment on the overall findings:
"When asked how wireless mobile technology had changed their lives, people most often said it had brought them into closer contact with friends or family and had helped them be better informed about current events."
It's interesting to reflect on the fact that in 1876, when Alexander Graham Bell received U.S. Patent #174465 on the telephone he had invented, there was widespread doubt and skepticism about the device's usefulness. *
The United States was celebrating its 100th birthday, and the 1876 Centennial Exhibition (later renamed the World's Fair) was held in the U.S. for the first time that year. The memory of the U.S. Civil war was still fresh in peoples' minds, and America was beginning the transition into the age of electricity.
Bell debated whether or not to exhibit his new telephone at the Centennial Exhibition. Finally he decided to join, and obtained a small display table under a stairwell to show off his newfangled device. Eventually he was granted a better location.
Press reports in the U.S. and overseas were initially skeptical and even scornful. The London Times was dismissive and gave scientific arguments for why speech could not be transmitted over a wire.
Nonetheless, by early 1880, there were 30,000 telephone subscribers in the U.S., which had a population of about 46 million at the time. Subscriber numbers grew steadily to reach 160,000 by 1888.
In other words, within about 5 years of Bell's launch of the telephone, more and more observers began waxing eloquent on the great new potential uses of this device. Skeptics and doubters remained, but as a vocal minority.
The first American President to have a telephone on his desk was Herbert Hoover, in 1929. This presidential telephone number was listed in the Washington directory as: # 1.
Today nearly 9 out of 10 Americans have a mobile phone. In Hong Kong, mobile penetration is higher than 1 device per person.
As TIME points out in its article on the survey results, a typical smart phone today is packed with more computing power than Apollo 11 when it landed a man on the moon.
This is mind-boggling in itself, but all the more so now as that computing power is put to work on an ever-growing array of applications including smart payments, social networking, airline check-in, voter registration, texting charity donations, mobile games, GPS apps, cameras, location-based ads, video chat, etc.
In the greater span of human history, the 136 years since Bell got his patent on the telephone isn't a very long stretch of time. Just as it wasn't humanly possible for Bell to imagine the full impact of his invention on society, it's nearly impossible for us now to imagine what life would be like without it.
I, for one, am grateful to have had the experience of making many telephone calls involving one or more human telephone operators, in one case involving an old rotary crank telephone handset. I have sent and received telegrams and telexes, as well as faxes; so I fully appreciate the progress we've made.
I hasten to add that at no time, past or present, have I ever had even the slightest desire to sleep with a telephone.
*for facts and figures on the history of the telephone in the U.S., I am indebted to Ammon Shea's "The Phone Book", a very interesting and entertaining volume. A Perigree Book, published by Penguin Group in 2010.