JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 1003
Is the telephone answering machine the greatest non-transportation contributor to expanding human motion and time in the 1850-1950 century? Certainly photography (from an earlier period, invented in 1839 and more or less popularized by the mid-1840’s) should be considered in this category, what with the visual capture of a moment in time and all; Marey/Muybridge and their primitive photographic motion studies is another; George Carey’s prehistoric selenium/light sensitive “seeing by electricity” invention and the more modern television by Jenkins and Farnsworth are others. And of course there is the invention of the telephone itself by Alex Bell in 1876 (and a man whose house and lab was only a few blocks removed from where my store used to be on Volta Street in Georgetown DC many years ago) as another paramount example.
But I think the telephone answering machine is certainly one of them, I think, and not a modest example either. The answering machine (for “him”, of course) allowed a person to be in two places at one time, allowing the telephone to function not only as a communication device but as a secretary, liberator, device as well. Now (in 1958, when this ad appeared) that people had completely embraced the phone for business and for pleasure, it added immeasurably to the well of free time. The telephone enabled immediacy; but for that immediacy to work, a person had to be there to tend it. With the answering machine, however, a person could in a way save that immediacy for a more convenient time, liberating their necessary presence the telephone experience.
The telephone allowed as person to instantaneously be in two places at the same time, basically; the answering machine contributed a third (or more) place, and freed up the time element.
In effect the thing was/is a time machine, making it possible to either instantly speak with someone 12,000 miles away, or save the conversation for a more convenient time, sort of going back into the past to replay the communication..(Or dump it, extracting the necessary info or whatever without having to actually interact with the caller. )
Its easy to slip and refer to the machine as simply “an answering machine”, leaving out the “telephone part; it would be nice to have a machine that could reliably answer questions like that (though I think that this is what Google imagines itself to be). The “answering machine” four generations or whatever from now may be something that is today unimaginable. Maybe there will be a general death of the question, because everything has been answered.
Maybe the greatest machine in the future will be the questioning machine, something that skirts all of the known answers in whatever earth-sized database exists at the time. Something that asks for information or for a synthesis of answers that doesn’t (yet) exist.
Anyway, I like what I think is the great importance of the telephone answering machine. And I don’t know how The Rockford Files would’ve functioned without one.