Imagine yourself at a dinner party. The meal is finished and preparations are underway for the evening’s entertainment. The program will be a concert, sung by a leading diva of the day before an admiring crowd. The guests settle into their seats, and each one is given a device through which to enjoy the music.
The audience isn’t at the concert hall. Nor does it hear the performance carried by television or radio, or even played on a phonograph. Instead, each guest is handed a telephone. For when the telephone was first invented, long before it emerged as a medium for social conversation, it was seriously marketed as a device for broadcasting public lectures and performances.
Unlike Athena springing well-formed from the head of Zeus, new technologies may take decades to reach maturity. Steam engines were developed for pumping water out of mines, transistors were seen as a panacea for improving hearing aides, and television was initially heralded as an educational medium. Just so, teletechnologies such as the telegraph, the telephone, and email have undergone marked evolution not only in their power to convey messages but in the uses to which we choose to put them.