Wikipedia refers to him as an eminent scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator. To me, he’s a magician. I’m not talking about Apple’s Steve Jobs, RIP. I’m talking about Alexander Graham Bell, founder of the telephone. You may not know this but Bell’s mother and wife, both were deaf and he know to make lemonade when life threw him lemons. His grandfather, father and brother all worked in elocution and speech. His first telephone patent was in 1876. Thomas Edison and others would later improve on the invention. They would never know what this invention would do hundreds of years later.
Today the gadget has morphed in shape and multiplied in uses. From the ancient dialing contraption to the modern hand-held personal, the telephone remains a central part of our lives. How sound can travel around the world in wired or wireless way remains an enigma for most, myself included. What is magical is the immediacy at which I can reach someone in another continent while a letter is still being sorted at the Post Office.
This opens up myriads of opportunities for business, for government and for social use. In many developed countries, the telephone is used to great effect for emergency calls. In the US for example, an emergency call made to number 911 reaches the police within seconds. If you’re calling from a fixed line, the operator notes your location and sends you either an ambulance, police car or fire truck. Sometimes all three, long before you have said your address.
Now, you may argue and say that the greatest invention ever is the Internet. May I remind you, that until recently, the Internet worked exclusively through telephone lines. You couldn’t make a call and go online at the same time. The Fibre Optic Cable is now here and we can keep our phone lines for other uses. Like making calls, which remains a fundamental, unchanging use. Making calls includes the business of outsourced customer service, business voice calls, conference calls, calls to friends and calls for taxis, pizzas and other such services.
While the telephone gadgets are getting smaller, cheaper and more personal, their uses are multiplying. The mobile phone is pocket-sized, can cost as little as Ksh 1500 when new and I can have my own line. This is an excellent invention because it is one of few inventions that appeal equally to women and to men. Women like to talk. And men like to have a gadget that they can keep pulling apart.
The mobile is now moving into the terrain of personal computers. As computers get smaller, mobile phones are taking on more and more of the features of a computer. A mobile phone can make all calls, surf the net, double as a television set, catch my favourite radio station, check my email, send to printer and with features such as m-pesa, my phone serves as my bank.
I predict that the mobile phone will get bigger (as a pad) and slowly edge out the PC. Because, if my phone can do all that my PC does, why then do I need the latter?