The Virtual Disconnect

Written by BG Howard

November 9, 2022

Joseph Henry discovered the process of electric induction in 1831 with no idea the impact it would ultimately have on worldwide communications. His discovery facilitated further advancements in electrical telegraphy. Dr. David Alter invented the first practical telegraph in 1836 and, though a number of inventors worked on a variety of communication devices at the time, Samuel F. B. Morse, with the help of his assistant and financier, Alfred Vail, produced the first commercially successful electric telegraph in 1837.

An electrically transmitted signaling alphabet was developed resulting with their first message, “What hath God wrought?” being sent from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, MD on May 24, 1844. The Morse-Vail Code, later simplified to become the Morse Code, eventually became the internationally accepted mode of communication. The Morse Code remained the effective means of correspondence on the high seas until it, and the S.O.S. distress signal, was disbanded in 1999.

There were multiple inventions of communication devices between 1840 and 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell was awarded a patent for the first functional telephone. Thusly, Bell, professor of Vocal Physiology at Boston University, is credited as the inventor of the first telephone. PBS.org reports: He came to the U.S. as a teacher of the deaf, and conceived the idea of “electronic speech” while visiting his hearing-impaired mother in Canada. This led him to invent the microphone and later the “electrical speech machine” — his name for the first telephone.

I venture to debate that Mr. Bell couldn’t possibly have imagined the long-term impact his concept would have on society some 140 years later. The idea of utilizing a device enabling you to communicate with someone across the country or at virtually any location around the world has undergone a few modifications since its inception.

Building upon Alexander Graham Bell’s original idea, fast-forward 129 years when a Motorola employee and inventor named Martin Cooper conceived the idea of the first handheld mobile phone and placed the first public call from Manhattan, NY to Bell Labs’ headquarters in New Jersey on April 3, 1973. He headed the team that developed the concept and brought the product to market ten years later, in 1983. Cooper took Alexander Bell’s idea to the next level ushering in a plethora of technological improvements.

Introduction of cell phones, with continuously improving capabilities, has turned the process of personal communications into a virtual art. A growing phenomenon among youth and other savvy cell/smart phone aficionados is the process of “typing” text messages that are transmitted from one cell number to a receiving party. This action, known simply as “texting,” has become more prevalent throughout every aspect of today’s society.

Irony lies in the fact that inventions in communication to make staying connected easier unfortunately resulted in exactly the opposite of what the progressively thinking inventors intended. People can “talk” without talking as emails and text messages have virtually taken the place of phone conversations. The unrestricted “permissions” of cell phones allow one to send/receive text messages, access the internet to check/send emails and have conversations without ever having to speak with a person. This well-intended technology has evolved to the point of being a daily distraction in every aspect of human activity ranging from family meals to Sunday church services.

The National Safety Council reports cell phone usage while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year. Nearly 330,000 injuries occur annually from accidents caused by texting while driving and 1 of every 4 car accidents in the U.S. results from the same activity. Each day in the United States, over 8 people are killed and 1,161 injured in crashes that involve a distracted driver.
Many people debate their ability to multi-task, maintaining it’s possible to text or talk on the phone while driving. There are three main distractions: Visual; when you take your eyes off the road, Manual; when you take your hands off the wheel, and Cognitive; when you take your mind off driving which is generally the case with cell phones. Remarkably, texting requires all three. Taking your eyes off the road for just five seconds at 55 mph means your vehicle travels the distance of a football field without you looking. Would you want to be in the opposing lane knowing the car you’re meeting has a blind driver?
A common scene at an evening meal involves a couple seated across from one another; each using their respective cell phones with a lap top or tablet on the table in front of them. We are sometimes so engrossed in activities involving our respective “gadgets” the meanings of words or the point of entire conversations are missed. In this technological age people often share the same space but remain worlds apart. I could be wrong but it’s just something to consider.

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