www.helicoptersmagazine.com

Features Military Operations
Saluting the Change Agents

I grew up in a house with one single black telephone, bolted to the wall in the main hall. With a little practice, you learned how to stretch the cord and contort your body into the hall closet so you could hide behind the overcoats and umbrellas while communicating with your friends; only we didn’t call it “communicating.”


October 11, 2011
By Paul Dixon

Topics

I grew up in a house with one single black telephone, bolted to the wall in the main hall. With a little practice, you learned how to stretch the cord and contort your body into the hall closet so you could hide behind the overcoats and umbrellas while communicating with your friends; only we didn’t call it “communicating.”

Information gathering – information sharing – is communication that leads to decision-making, or at least that’s the theory. For example, the Treaty of Ghent, signed in December 1814, marked the end of the War of 1812. In January 1815, at the Battle of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson defeated a numerically superior British force. The victory occurred three weeks after that war was officially over – and it would be well into February 1815, before word of the end of the war reached all the combatants in North America. But 200 years ago, that was the speed of communications.

About the same time, inventors were tinkering with the first electrical telegraph, though it was another 30 years before Samuel Morse patented the first practical telegraph in North America. In 1861, the brief existence of the Pony Express was snuffed out by the first transcontinental telegraph. Then came trans-Atlantic submarine cables and, by the mid-1870s, all corners of the British Empire were connected by telegraph.

Alexander Graham Bell beat Elisha Gray to the patent office by a matter of hours and thus became the father of Ma Bell. The irony being, of course, that while Bell was awarded the patent, the telephone he eventually brought to market relied on Gray’s design. Double the irony in that Bell never really saw the potential of his invention. To him, it would simply replace private telegraph systems that existed in many businesses, thereby eliminating the need for telegraph operators. It took others to come up with the switchboard and the exchange, which led to a broader market for the telephone.

About the same time as I was extricating myself from my parents’ hall closet and heading off to the BC Telephone Company to arrange the rental of my very own telephone, in 1973, something happened in New York City that turned the world on its ear. A man named Martin Cooper made a friendly phone call to a competitor by the name of Joel Engle. What’s the big deal? Cooper worked for Motorola and Engle worked for Bell Labs. Cooper was using a cellular phone and, having a few minutes to kill before going into a press conference where he would introduce the cellphone to the world, he called Dr. Engle. It has been said that Engle’s reaction was total silence. That’s understandable, because at AT&T, the parent of Bell Labs held all the patents relevant to mobile telephony. The problem lay in the fact that the people at Bell were trying to solve the problem of mobile communications using the automobile as the base of the system. Cooper and his team created a personal communications device, which, as we now know, is much more than just a method of mobile communications.

It was only four years before “the call heard ’round the world” that another tiny communications step was taken. On Oct. 29, 1969, ARPANET came to life – and a link joining the computers at four research universities in the U.S. was activated. ARPANET spawned the Internet, but as with the cellphone, it took some time for technology to catch up with the concept. The Internet became the World Wide Web, driven by computing horsepower and high-speed data transmission capabilities (remember your first dial-up modem?).

Now, 20 years after “www” entered our vocabulary, the android phone in my pocket serves as an access point to more than I will ever need to know – and barely 40 years removed from that basic black telephone in the hall. There was nothing wrong with that basic black telephone. It met my expectations, but consider how our needs and expectations have grown over these past 40 years.

These changes came not from the invention of the physical entity so much as from the minds of people who saw the world as it was – and imagined what it could be. What will commercial aviation look like in 40 years? How about 10 years from now? With all the buzz about Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and removing the human touch from the interface, is there a new Martin Cooper out there who sees the future just a little differently from the mainstream?


Paul Dixon is freelance writer and photojournalist living in Vancouver.


Print this page

Related



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*